Search for the name, locality, period or a feature of a locality. You'll then be taken to a map showing results.

Duns Castle


The well-preserved early-19th-century parkland at Duns Castle features a sunken drive, a replanted early-18th-century lime avenue and a lake. The lake and some of the woodland now form Duns Castle Nature Reserve. The structure of the early-19th-century walled garden survives. Duns Castle is open for corporate events, weddings, private hire and sporting activities.

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

An early 19th-century design centred on the Hay family seat of Duns Castle and featuring extensive parks, woodlands and an 18th-century artificial loch. Devised largely by Thomas White in 1812, the scheme replaced an older, formal landscape, of which the loch, lime avenue, and some park divisions are the main survivors. Duns Castle itself is an important architectural feature, designed around the older castle structure by James Gillespie Graham in 1820-23.

Location and Setting

Duns Castle is a large designed landscape situated on the northern edge of the town of Duns. The castle itself lies within the valley of the Cumledge Burn and is contained by Duns Law on the east, and woodlands on the west. Duns Law, a prominent conical hill in the eastern part of the policies, is by far the most distinctive topographic landmark. Formed by a block of old red sandstone protruding from the greensand, the grassy summit of the law features the scheduled archaeological remains of an Iron Age fort and 17th-century Covenanters camp. Views on the ascent reveal the low-lying, undulating parkland, woodland and artificial loch at the heart of the estate and the hilly grasslands of the Lammermuirs, which ascend to the north west. The Hen Poo loch forms the core element in a wildlife reserve made accessible to the public via a network of loch-side and woodland paths. From the top of Duns Law, panoramic views extend south west over the adjacent town and rich farmland of the Berwickshire Merse basin. The designed landscape encompasses 564ha (1393ac) and is bounded on the east by a rubble boundary wall and the A6105 and A6112 roads. The minor B6365 forms the north-eastern limit, while the north-western and western boundary is defined mainly by the shape of woodland plantations established by the opening decades of the 19th century. The essential form and structure of the designed landscape has changed little since the first Ordnance Survey of 1855-7.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Duns Castle is a 4-storey, crenellated baronial Tudor mansion built to the designs of James Gillespie Graham in 1820-23 with minor alterations to the west undertaken in 1966. It incorporates the intact Pele tower of the original castle, built c.1320 for Randolph, Earl of Moray, and later improvements dating to the 1780s. On the lawn terrace to the south is a stone sundial on an octagonal pedestal. To the north west, John Baxter II's Gothic-style stable block, complete with spire, dates to 1792-94. There are three lodges. John Baxter II's Pavilion Lodge, built 1774-1777, comprises a Gothic double-tower lodge house with a point-arched crenellated gateway spanning the road. The rectangular Tudor-style north lodge, c.1820 also includes a flat-pointed Tudor arch. The contemporary south lodge incorporates an asymmetrical French Gothic entrance screen and an ornamental cast-iron entrance gate. A rubble boundary wall divides the estate from the A6112. Other notable features include the 2-storey, earlier 19th-century St Mary's Cottage, the later 19th-century 4-bay, symmetrical kennels, and the single-storey, 3-bay Kennel Master's house. The Gardener's Cottage is an attractive mid-19th-century harled structure located to the west of the rectangular walled garden, which, in turn, features coped brick walls with a stone potting range along the exterior of the north wall. Just beyond the western boundary of the designed landscape, the ruins of Borthwick Castle were excavated prior to the quarrying of the site in the later 20th century.

Drives and Approaches

The principal approach leads from Castle Street in Duns. The transition from urban space to the leafy parklands of the policies is marked by the arched gate at the north lodge, commissioned in c.1820 by William Hay to mark the entrance of a new private road towards the castle. The initial part of the approach follows the route of the old 18th century public road towards Ellemford Bridge; a route that had formerly crossed the policies in front of the imposing Pavilion Lodge and past the then smaller lake (approximately where the island is now), before heading north west past Chapel Farm (Roy 1747-55; Hay 2009). In 1815, William Hay succeeded in persuading the town council to allow him to build a new public road further to the north (the present B6365) and to retain the old road as a more secluded, private entrance (Hay 2009).

The substantial gate at the Pavilion lodge leads onto the grand lime avenue towards the castle where the impressive veteran trees form an important and historic element of the design. First planted c.1690-1720, many trees had to be winched back into place and re-erected following a disastrous gale in 1881. To the south of the castle, a further drive was established in the early 19th century with a lodge and gateway forming an elaborate entry point into the woods and parks. Unlike others designed by Thomas White, this drive traverses an unusually straight line.

A network of service drives and tracks, meanwhile, curve around the Hen Poo loch and connect the different sectors of the woodlands and conifer plantations.


Undulating parkland encircles Duns Castle and extends up the lower western flank of Duns Law. Mature trees line the long established field divisions in this area, known as The Bruntons, and grow in small, tightly-planted clumps. These parks are grazed by cattle and feature an excellent grass sward. Elsewhere, broadleaf specimens grow individually and in more substantial clumps, particularly in the parks to the south of the Castle. Here, some of the original design features as conceived by Thomas White Jnr. in the early 19th century can be appreciated: Curving perimeter woodland behind a ha-ha forms a sinuous outer edge to the parks. The sunken west drive ensures uninterrupted panoramic views towards Duns Law, and the abundant canopy of lime, sycamore, horse chestnut and copper beech frame views to and from Duns Castle. Although occasional older veterans remain, many of the present trees date from later 19th-century planting. New trees planted towards the end of the 20th century along the west drive and in the southern parks will help ensure the continued parkland character within the designed landscape.


Of all the landscape components at Duns Castle, the woodland is perhaps most important. The thick, curving, perimeter strip around the south and west gives form to the parks while the mixed canopy of Duns Wood enriches the quality of the local scenery by virtue of its sheer extent. Covering a large area of hilly terrain to the north-west of the castle, Duns Wood is made up of a number of historically separate plantations. The earliest sections were established on Witches Hill and Wadderley Park by the mid-18th century. Diagonal rides depicted on 18th century maps and plans suggest the popularity of this landscape device in this, and other planted areas prior to the later informalisation of the grounds. Successive campaigns of planting achieved the essential woodland structure recognisable in the present landscape by the 1820s. Since 1920-50, most of the outer plantations towards the north and west, and a strip on Duns Law, have been planted with conifers and are managed on a commercial basis. However, the core woods of the designed landscape, situated to the west of the Hen Poo loch, retain a mixed deciduous character with occasional stands of larch and Scots pine. Old stumps and surviving veteran oak, beech and sweet chestnut among the younger trees belie the age of these woods, which also forms an attractive setting for several walks, including the Colonel's path by Hen Poo loch.

Water Features

The Hen Poo is a long, narrow artificial body of water located immediately to the north of Duns Castle. It is the central component of a wildlife reserve and forms a valuable habitat for a range of wildfowl. Cartographic depictions indicate that the loch was in existence by 1744, and that it featured several planted islands in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries. In the first half of the 19th century, the Hen Poo was extended both to the south and to the north, thus giving this large water feature its present shape.

Walled Garden

The walled garden fell into disuse in the mid-20th century and remains unmaintained. Located among mature shrubberies and trees to the west of Duns Castle, it was originally built in 1802-07 following a decision to replace the older walled garden, which had been prominently sited by the Pavilion Lodge, just south of the lime avenue. A surviving contract reveals its commission from a Walter Nicol of Edinburgh and the instruction for the proposed garden to be 'enclosed in a substantial manner, with hothouses, hotwalls, pine pits, greenhouse and other conveniences'to be finished and the keys delivered by 1 November 1807' (NAS NRAS2720/Bundle 228). White's plan of 1812 and the first edition Ordnance Survey map (1855-7, OS 25') indicate that the rectangular garden was divided into eight square compartments with a path crossing the centre. Today, slight changes in the colour of the vegetation indicate the former location of this path, while the foundations and bricked-up hearths are the only surviving visible material remains of the former glasshouse range and heating system. Around the outside of the walls, the mature broadleaves are probable contemporaries of the construction project, while the Douglas fir, Lawson cypress and Thuja varieties are late 19th century specimens.

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

Duns Castle is an interesting example of early 19th-century parkland design by Thomas White Jnr. Surviving maps, plans and correspondence provide valuable insight into the sequential development of the policies and the changing aesthetic fashions of the day. The summit of Duns Law is scheduled on account of the nationally important archaeological remains on the site, while the extensive woods and natural topography of the policies enrich the scenic character of the local landscape.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

18th century to 1820s

Site History

The present design of the landscape can be traced to phases of work carried out in the early 19th century when the then owner, William Hay, sought to improve and informalise the existing Castle grounds. The Hay family had first acquired Duns Castle in 1696. Over subsequent years, each new generation had modified the estate, initially by adding extensions to the older tower-house, and then through the pursuit of increasingly ambitious landscape projects during the 18th century. By the time the elderly Alexander Hay handed over the property to his son, Robert, c.1780, Duns Castle stood within a formal designed landscape that featured an artificial loch, sizable plantations criss-crossed with rides, and an ornamental formal garden to the south of the castle, complete with parterres and a lozenge-shaped canal or pond as a centre-piece (NAS RHP5686, NAS RHP83405).

Robert Hay instigated his own additions during the late 18th and early 19th century. The impressive stable block and walled garden were all built during his lifetime, while a sketch plan of proposed improvements dated 1789 suggests that he also had his eye on more wide-ranging changes that would soften the formal lines of the policies. The estate finances, however, were not without limit and subsequent work on the estate proved costly.

William Hay inherited the estate in 1813 at the age of 25. Planting, draining and infilling work in front of the castle had continued during the 6 years since his father, Robert's death. Despite inheriting a number of debts, William immediately stepped up the pace. He brought in the designer, Thomas White Jnr. to devise a scheme for the castle grounds and later, the renowned architect, James Gillespie Graham, to rework the castle itself. Unfortunately, Hay was a poor accountant and having massively overspent for over a decade, was forced to place his affairs in the hands of trustees. 'I have at last got a final settlement of my affairs', he wrote in 1829, 'which, I am sorry to say, are as bad as possible' (quoted in Worsley 1989: 38).

In spite of the dire financial straits, the Castle grounds were transformed. William was a self-proclaimed advocate of the Picturesque. Inspired by Uvedale Price's 1794 book, An Essay on the Picturesque, he later came to rue the partial execution of White's design, which perhaps seemed too formulaic or old-fashioned by this time. He opted to expand the plantations in order to create a more sylvan effect, 'giving the lawns and fields the appearance of having been cut out of the woodland, the luxuriant encroachments of which could hardly be restrained' (quoted in Tait 1980: 172). Hay's ideal was the landscape of 'Gainsborough, Wynants, Ruysdal and Hebbimar' as opposed to the 'followers of Brown, Repton and Whyte [sic]' (ibid.). Although some older elements of the landscape were retained, including the loch and the grand lime avenue, the policies as a whole presented a much more informal aspect, which persists into the present day.

Duns Castle estate has passed directly down to the present generation of Hays. During the 20th century, changing economic circumstances led to the sale of parts of the estate, the beginning of commercial forestry in the large plantations, and the decline of some former landscape features. The walled garden, for instance, was effectively abandoned by 1950 while some vestiges of the 18th century design, such as the double avenue of trees extending westward from the castle, were lost. The Castle remains a family home but is also used for a range of events. Public access around the loch and woods is encouraged through the maintenance of a network of well publicised paths.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Lake
  • Description: The lake known as Hen Poo was created in the early-19th century on the site of a former canal. It is now part of Duns Castle Nature Reserve.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Avenue
  • Description: A replanted early-18th-century lime avenue.
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Duns Castle was rebuilt in the early-19th century around a 14th-century tower.
  • Drive
  • Description: Sunken drive.
Key Information


Country Estate



Principal Building






Electoral Ward

Duns and District North




  • Historic Scotland