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Dalkeith House (also known as Dalkeith Palace)


Dalkeith House is situated between the Rivers North and South Esk which flow through the policies. The estate was renowned for its woodland of many ages and still contains ancient oak trees and 19th-century ornamental woodland with walks through it. A mid-19th-century conservatory, designed by William Sawrey Gilpin, survives although the formal parterre around it has disappeared.

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

Dalkeith House is situated 3 miles (5km) to the south-east of Edinburgh off the A68 and immediately to the north of Dalkeith town. The A6094 runs along the south and east boundaries of the estate, lined by the impressive curving 9' high walls. The River North Esk and South Esk flow through the policies converging in the north of the parks to form the River Esk. The house itself is set on slightly higher ground above the River North Esk with extensive views across the well-wooded low-lying landscape and to the Pentland Hills to the south. The geology is Carboniferous with varied exposures of the different series along the courses of the two rivers, overlain with glacial and riverine deposits. The parkland and avenues were laid out partly to provide vistas from the house. Views into the designed landscape are limited by the surrounding walls from the south but the fine enclosed deciduous woodlands are visible from the surrounding area and particularly from the main roads to the north.

Dalkeith House is based on an earlier fortified castle sited, for defensive reasons, between the two rivers and on higher ground above the River North Esk. The designed landscape extends along the valleys of the two rivers and is enclosed on its southern and eastern boundaries by the A6094, and by the policy woodlands on its western boundary. The layout in 1750 is illustrated on General Roy's map which shows the area of ancient woodland enclosed by the two rivers with formal plantings nearer to the Castle. These took the form of a double avenue leading south-east from the Castle, the Dark Walk, with, to its north, a round-point leading to the South Esk, and opposite this on the other side of the river, more radial blocks of planting leading to a main north-east avenue. Opposite the house on the west bank of the North Esk is a further area of formal planting. A survey plan of 1764 picks out this same pattern.

The 1st edition OS of 1854 shows the late 18th century additions to the park, the lodge and the Montagu Bridge, and shows the former walled kitchen garden to the west of the River North Esk. The former strong lines of the Avenues are less distinct and all traces of the formal woodland plantings had been lost by then. The structure of the designed landscape remains similar today to that shown on the 1st edition map and contains 1,088 acres (440ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Dalkeith House is listed A. It was designed c.1701 by James Smith incorporating the early Castle, repaired in 1762 by John Adam, and was added to by James Playfair in 1786 and by William Burn in 1831. Interior improvements were made by W. Schomberg Scott in 1973. It has been described as 'the grandest of all early classical houses in Scotland'.

The Stables and Coach-house were designed in 1740 by William Adam with additions in 1840 by William Burn. The Laundry is early 19th century with an eight- windowed, one-storey front. The Laundry Bridge is listed B. The medieval Cow Bridge is listed A and is a Scheduled Monument. The King's Gate is listed B. The Conservatory of 1832 is a twelve-sided building with central chimney and Roman Doric columns on a stepped base, raised up above what was once an elaborate parterre by Gilpin. The Montagu Bridge, listed A, was built in 1792 by Robert Adam and represented a feat of engineering of its time. The Town Lodge has gates designed by James Playfair c.1784. The Dark Walk gates are 18th century and listed B. The King's Gate of 1848, to the west, is by William Burn and David Bryce and is listed B. The North Lodge is 19th century and Baronial in style.


In 1824 Loudon referred to the park as containing 'upwards of 800 acres, surrounded by a stone wall 9' high. It is magnificently wooded and watered by two streams, the North Esk and South Esk which pass by the house'. The extensive parklands were first enclosed as deer parks, as early as 1637, when Charles I was keen to purchase Dalkeith to extend the deer park. The sheltering woodland belts were also laid out to enclose grazing stock and have helped to protect the relict oak woodlands enclosed by the two rivers. Lady's Seat is marked in the northern half of Steel Park, up above the confluence of the two rivers, and its site is shown on the 1854 map. Some of the former parkland is now in arable use but most is still maintained as very attractive pasture. Traces of former avenue plantings can be discovered in the policy woodlands including a coppiced lime avenue to the west of the River North Esk designed as a vista from the house. The Great Avenue to the east of the house extended over 1,873' in length and 88' in breadth. An avenue of ornamental trees, planted in 1971, includes horse chestnut, whitebeam, silver birch and gean and leads to Montagu Bridge.


The mixed age woodland plantations at Dalkeith House have been famed in history as much as the more ornamental components of the gardens. The ancient oakwoods have provided seed over the years for many younger mixed deciduous plantations which also include beech, sycamore and, where appropriate, alder, hawthorn, hazel or other species in association. Coniferous plantings have also been made, generally larch and Scots pine mixed with deciduous species or sometimes used as a nurse crop.

The Dalkeith Oak Wood is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, containing both sessile and pedunculate oaks. The age of most of the trees dates from 300 years, although it is known that these have seeded from older trees dating back to the Caledonian Forest. The woods are still regenerating and many trees have been selected as seed trees, not just for the Dalkeith estate.

The Gardens

The ornamental plantings of trees and shrubs around the walled kitchen gardens and on the lawns have been well recorded in the past and were particularly famous in the mid-19th century when Charles McIntosh, former gardener to the King of the Belgians, became Head Gardener at Dalkeith. The main garden area at this time was laid out to the west of the River North Esk as shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1854. This shows a series of woodland walks leading from bridges across the river to an area of lawns and shrubbery east of the kitchen garden. Several ranges of glasshouses faced south over a walled garden divided into four main compartments. Part of the walls of this garden remain, and it now encloses a school for the handicapped.

McIntosh designed new twelve acre gardens to the north of the house which were famous for their enormous ranges of glasshouses and for their scroll and ribbon bedding which ran the length of the garden. He also moved a 500' length of rose trellis from the old garden where it had been planted in c.1700 and replanted the several varieties of old roses along it near to the new gardens, and planted a new rose hedge using old species of roses. The fruit houses included vineries, peach and nectarine houses, pineapple pits, fig and tomato houses, and many varieties of fruit were grown outside.

In 1832 Gilpin drew up a plan for a formal garden to the west of the river opposite the natural amphitheatre which lies between the two manmade caves of the Tunnel. Gilpin did not consider it worthwhile to plant up the Tunnel area, but did propose a parterre design centering on a Conservatory which was designed and built by William Burn. The Conservatory is all that remains of his scheme today and this has now lost its glazing. In Gilpin's notes to his plan he suggests enlarging the parkland area by removing some of the formal plantations of trees, and suggested planting a pinetum in the pleasure grounds where the soil was unfavourable for flowers. The pines could be 'occasionally mingled with American plants'. The removal of the stables to enlarge the pleasure grounds was under consideration at that time and Gilpin advised against it.

Several ornamental trees and shrubs were planted in the pleasure grounds and it is chiefly these that can be found today, some adjacent to woodland plantings to the west of the North Esk, some on the lawns near the house. To the north of the house are some fine old Cedars of Lebanon dating from 1770. Other cedars were planted on the terraces by the house, along with several varieties of hollies, maples and other specimen trees including a weeping Sequoia, an early introduction.

This area was photographed in 1911 showing beautifully kept lawns surrounding the ornamental trees planted in groups and individually. The woodland walk is maintained for visitors to the park and part of it has been laid out as a nature trail. Monkey puzzles and Sequoias can be found to the west of the rivers.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Dalkeith Country Park is open daily in season.


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

Rich in historical association, the design composition of architecture, gardens, parkland, river terraces and woodland is still attractive today and provides a valuable wildlife refuge, as well as the setting for a category A listed building.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

No information available.

Site History

A formal design is shown on the 1750 map although the natural landscape features provided the structure for the design and for the late 18th century informal layout. Many architects have been involved in designing buildings in the policies, and W.S. Gilpin is known to have prepared a plan in 1832 and to have designed the formal Conservatory garden.

In its early history, Dalkeith Castle was the stronghold of the Douglases of Dalkeith who retained it until the time of the 1st Earl of Morton, James Douglas, who, after enlarging the building, made arrangements to sell it to Charles I, one of many royal visitors to Dalkeith over the centuries. When these plans fell through, the castle was sold to Francis Scott, 2nd Earl of Buccleuch in 1642. During Cromwell's interregnum (1649-1660) General George Monck, later Duke of Albemarle, was put in command of events in Scotland, basing himself at Dalkeith where he also planned the Restoration of the Monarchy. The 2nd Earl of Buccleuch died in 1651 and was succeeded by his two daughters. The younger, Anne, married the Duke of Monmouth, natural son of Charles II. He assumed the name of Scott and they were created Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch in 1663. The Duke led a rebellion against his uncle for which he was beheaded in 1685 after which the Duchess stayed in London for many years, deciding to move back to look after her Scottish estates in c.1701. The Buccleuch Estates had been managed in the Duchess' absence by George, 1st Earl of Melville. She had the present house, or Palace as it was then known, built to the designs of the architect James Smith. The Palace incorporated parts of the Castle which is shown in a drawing by John Slezer of c.1690. The Duchess lived until the age of 81 and made vast improvements to the house and its decoration. Defoe visited in 1720 and described waterworks, fountains, a canal designed but not completed, and fine avenues in the course of planting. Her grandson, Francis, inherited in 1726, and was in turn succeeded by his grandson, Henry, in 1751.

The 3rd Duke was aged only five when he inherited but lived for many years at Dalkeith after benefitting from the wise tutorship of Adam Smith, the celebrated economist, overseeing most of the changes in the designed landscape from its early formal layout to the picturesque. He swept away the forecourt in 1769, replacing it with the oval lawn painted by Barret in 1769, who also painted The Hermitage in the Park. The Hermitage has since been lost but the picture survives at Bowhill. The 3rd Duke married Lady Elizabeth Montagu who later inherited the Montagu estates in 1790. The Duke himself inherited some Argyll estates from his mother and all of the Queensberry estates, but Dalkeith remained the family's principal residence until 1918. Amongst other changes made by him in the policies, the Montagu Bridge was erected in 1790 to designs by Robert Adam, after several other designs had been submitted in previous years, including one by Chambers. A Temple was designed by Baxter in 1775, and in 1786 James Playfair added a bow-window and, in 1784, a lodge.

The 3rd Duke died in 1812 and his grandson, Walter Francis, succeeded in 1819 and, despite his youth, found himself acting as host to George IV who moved into Dalkeith House instead of the Palace of Holyroodhouse on his first and only formal visit to Scotland in 1822. He was known as a great improver of his many estates. He consulted William Burn in the 1830s with regard to improvements to the house which were never made, but Burn did carry out minor improvements to the interior. He also drew up the design for the Conservatory, as suggested by W.S. Gilpin in 1832, as the centrepiece for his formal parterre near the River South Esk. Many famous gardeners were employed at Dalkeith, the most famous being Charles McIntosh who worked at Dalkeith in the mid-19th century and who wrote 'The Book of the Garden'. He built and planted out a new kitchen garden to the north of the house which was much admired. In 1850 the gardener, William Thomson, was brought to Dalkeith from Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire. The pinetum was planted in the mid-19th century and the bowling green shown on the 1854 map has been replaced by tennis courts in more recent years. Since World War I, Dalkeith ceased to be the principal residence of the Buccleuchs and, although the house has been leased for business and educational uses, the function of the flower and kitchen gardens has been lost over the years. The park is open as a Country Park and some visitor facilities have been added to it, including the adventure playground.


  • 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

  • Scheduled Ancient Monument

  • Reference: Cow Bridge
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest

  • Reference: Dalkeith Oak Woods
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Cow Bridge
  • Grade: A
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: King's Gate
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Laundry Bridge
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Montagu Bridge
  • Grade: A


  • Conservatory
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Walk
  • Description: 19th-century ornamental woodland with walks through it.
Key Information





Principal Building



18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland

Related Documents
  • CLS 1/997

    Draft Historical Summary - Digital Copy

    Peter McGowan Associates and Others - 2005