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The Hirsel


The Hirsel Country Park comprises farmland and areas of forestry with a designed landscape around the house and the River Leet. The structure of the 18th-century walled garden survives. Walks around the country park take in a late-18th-century lake and follow winding paths through a 19th-century woodland garden with rhododendrons. Ornamental gardens around the house date from the mid-20th century.

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

A well-preserved late 18th to 19th-century informal landscape comprising parkland, woodland, a large artificial lake and a late 19th-century woodland garden that was developed from a more formal design around the older Hirsel mansion. While the house remains private, the core policies of Hirsel Estate are publicly accessible and form an important resource for local amenity and nature conservation.

Location and Setting

The Hirsel is located immediately to the north west of Coldstream and is set within the fertile lowlands of the Lower Berwickshire Merse. The policies cover a large area of undulating mixed farmland and forestry with the core areas forming an important amenity resource for walking and wildlife observation. The ground is drained by the fast-flowing Leet water, which crosses the policies from north-west to south-east. Both the river valley and the large artificial Hirsel lake are designated as part of the Hirsel Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are linked by a network of paths that also cross the inner parklands of the designed landscape. Significant areas of woodland shelter these core areas, while larger swathes of commercial forestry plantation cover much of the lower slopes of Hirsel Law to the north-west. This hill, also the site of a late prehistoric fort, forms the most prominent area of high ground and affords far-ranging views to the Cheviot Hills to the south. Elsewhere, views extend from much of the designed landscape westwards towards the Eildon Hills. Defined by main roads to the south and west, minor roads to the north and east, and the town of Coldstream to the south-east, the current boundary of the designed landscape encloses some 462ha (1141ac). This boundary observes an overall extent achieved following the expansion and modification of the estate during the 19th century.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Prominently sited on a terrace above the Leet valley, The Hirsel is a large three-storey mansion that exhibits different phases of construction from the opening decade of the 18th century through to the mid-19th century. Associated with both William Adam, (extensions 1739-41), and with William Burn, (projects of enlargement from c.1813), the present house is of a distinctive creamy-grey, harl-pointed sandstone and comprises a U-shaped west front with a square tower projecting from the south-west wing. In the north-west of the estate, there stands a late 18th-century, 6.1 metre high obelisk with inscribed base. Erected by Alexander, 9th Earl of Home, it commemorates his son who was fatally injured at the Battle of Guildford Court House, North Carolina in 1781. Closer to the house, the trapezoidal stone-and-brick walled garden was initially built in the mid-18th century, with alterations dating to c.1800. A stone-built, single-storey potting range extends along the exterior of the north wall, while the iron gates were installed in 1910. The homestead and adjoining square plan dovecot were originally constructed c.1800. Arranged around a cobbled yard, this steading complex now houses visitor facilities and exhibition rooms. Further 19th-century estate buildings include the Garden House, adapted from a smaller cottage in the mid 19th century, the large crow-stepped, red sandstone stable block, built c.1900, a fine symmetrical red sandstone dairy c.1900, and a laundry, built c.1890 with a stone base and half-timbered upper floor. Cockburn Lodge, Crooks Lodge and Montague Lodge were all built during the mid-19th century along the western edge of the estate, while Coldstream Lodge to the south east, with its gabled porch and overhanging eaves, was a late 19th-century addition. Close to this entrance point stands a bronze statue of the late Lord Home (Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1903-95), crafted by Professor Bill Scott and erected by public subscription in c.1998. Dunglass Bridge replaces a late 18th-century, single-arched bridge destroyed in floods in 1948. Meanwhile, the earliest architectural feature discovered on the estate consists of the remains of a medieval church, excavated 1979-84 and dated to the 9th to 10th century with later medieval additions.

Drives and Approaches

During the 19th century, four different drives approached the main house. The drive entering from the north west through a long curving strip of woodland may originally have been the more important given the tall Wellingtonia specimens that line part of its route and the location of the late 18th century obelisk, which would have been visible from the drive against a mixed woodland backdrop. Kincham Avenue, depicted on Blackadder's 1797 map, entered through woodland from the east before leading to the former Dunglass Bridge over the Leet Water. Also depicted on Blackadder's map is the drive that is mainly used today. Entering from the south-east by Coldstream, it curves past the steading and the lake before approaching the house. The drive from the west at Crook's Lodge, meanwhile, heads directly through farmland before curving to meet other service tracks and branches of the other drives.


While later woodlands, cereal fields and the golf-course have diminished the overall extent of the originally expansive 18th to early 19th century parks along the Leet valley and around the lake, the rolling green parkland extending to the west of the house retains its picturesque qualities. Clumps of mature trees accentuate the natural undulations of the landscape and there are some fine specimens of oak, beech, yew, lime and elm. Devices such as the sunken drive to the north-east of the lake, a recently restored ha ha at the bottom of the west lawn, and a semi-subterranean cow-arch, designed for herding livestock under the drive towards the dairy, continue to ensure uninterrupted views to and from the main house. Veteran specimens around the house include oaks and sweet chestnut. Apart from the Tulip tree veteran in the walled garden, The Hirsel is also known for its impressive veteran sycamore. The tree measures some 28m (92 feet) high and 6.4m (21 feet) in girth. While popular tradition asserts a planting date soon after the Battle of Flodden (1513), current estimations suggest a more likely date of 1640-1710 (The Hirsel Sycamore, ).


The late 19th-century woodland garden at Dundock Wood comprises tall Scots pine, Douglas fir and oak with an extensive underplanting of massive rhododendron and azalea bushes. The resulting effect of 'chequered sunshine and shade' on the colourful blossoms was admired a century ago by Maxwell (Maxwell 1908: 86), and at the time of writing, young Scots Pine are being planted to ensure the eventual replacement of the older specimens. The woodland strips of beech and oak along the banks of the Leet were planted as ornamental woodland c.1800. In the strip to the south of the Leet, a roughly circular depression is all that is left of a timber-and-thatch ice-house that was illustrated and described in 1853 (McIntosh 1853: 509-10). Elsewhere, the woodland areas contain a good species mix of oak, beech, horse chestnut, Wellingtonia, Douglas fir, Scots pine and Norway spruce. To the north, the original woodlands of Dunglass and Kincham Wood, planted during the later 18th-early 19th century were partly clear-felled during World War II and are now managed on a commercial basis.

The Gardens

Several small terraces lead from the house to the River Leet. On one of these, two Western red cedars shade the former Victorian rosary; a small circular area still partly bounded by curving, wooden trelliswork. Otherwise, the main garden area comprises beds and colourful, mixed herbaceous borders created by the 14th Earl of Home from 1958. These extend along the terrace to the south and east of the house, while a small alpine garden has been planted along the west front. Meanwhile, a large variety of ornamental trees dotted around the house, stables and walled garden bear witness to a gift presented to the 14th Earl by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One hundred and five trees representing all the countries that he had visited were given to the Earl on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1973.

Walled Garden

The walled garden, built sometime around the mid-18th century, is now mainly grassed over. The central veteran Tulip Tree, (Liriodendron tulipifera), reputedly planted in 1742, and with a girth of nearly 7.8m (26 feet), stands in the centre and is almost certainly one of the oldest surviving specimens in Scotland (Hirsel Tulip Tree, ; Country Champion Database, ). It is still possible to make out the slightly raised lines of the original axial paths that extended north, south, east and west from the tree, while the brickwork of the walls reveal various phases of alteration. The former internal arrangement of the garden is also apparent from the first Ordnance Survey map that indicates 4 quadrants mainly occupied by fruit trees with an upper terrace for glasshouses along the north wall (1855-7, OS 25'). The garden apparently underwent something of an overhaul c.1870 when potting sheds and other ancillary buildings were built, and a new range of glasshouses were constructed by Adam Stirling of Galashiels. Photographs taken in 1880, when the Head Gardener supervised a team of 20, shows a well-tended, well-stocked garden with immaculate and intricate decorative beds. The number of employed gardeners dwindled during the subsequent two World Wars and the decline of the garden led to the replacement of the old Victorian glasshouses with a few aluminium framed greenhouses, and the grassing over of the old paths and beds in the later 20th century. Today, just a couple of vegetable plots are maintained in the north western area. An attractive shrubbery along the exterior of the west wall, featuring climbers and roses, was planted by the 14th Earl.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The park is open daily throughout the year.


The Hirsel is situated just west of Coldstream on the A697. There is a regular bus service from Coldstream to Kelso.


The Home family


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

An outstanding designed landscape with a long historical connection to the Home family. In addition to forming an attractive setting for the category-A listed house, the grounds contain nationally important archaeological remains, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and two notable heritage trees. The parkland and woodland canopy make a major contribution to local scenery while rhododendrons and azaleas produce an impressive spring display in the Victorian woodland garden.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early to mid 18th century, 1780s-1820, 1870-1910, 1958-1970

Site History

Unlike many large estates, The Hirsel has remained under the continuous ownership of one single family for nearly four centuries. In 1611, the 1st Earl of Home and Privy Counsellor to James VI purchased the land from Sir John Ker, and it is likely that the family took up residence at The Hirsel some time before the destruction of their former seat of Hume Castle by Cromwell's forces in 1650.

The origins of the present landscape design can be traced to successive phases of work initiated from the start of the 18th century onwards. Alexander, the 7th Earl of Home (d.1720) probably commissioned the earliest parts of the present house around 1706, while his son William, the 8th Earl (1681-1761) contracted William Adam to design extensions in 1739. Roy's Military Survey map of c.1750 is a useful source of evidence for the layout of the grounds around this time and it reveals an expansive formal design with a long tree-lined avenue to the east of the Leet flanked by two enclosed parks. The walled garden may also have been built during this period, while current estimates assign its centrepiece ' an impressive veteran Tulip Tree, to a planting date c.1740-42 (Hirsel Tulip Tree,

During the later 18th century, the landscape design at The Hirsel was influenced by the wider concepts and ideals of the age which rejected formal styles in favour of more informal 'pastoral' scenes of parkland, lakes and woodlands. In 1786, at the age of 17, Alexander, the 10th earl, inherited the estate from his father, and in the same year, the first of many projects was completed; the excavation of a new large lake from an area of wet ground to the west of the house. Further landscaping work included planting dispersed clumps of trees and more shelter-belts and woodlands, evident on Blackadder's map of 1797, while episodes of building work led to new estate buildings, alterations to the structure of the walled garden and, from 1813, the extension of the main house.

Succeeding generations of Homes continued to develop the estate. The success of the lake in the 1780s may have set a precedent for ambitious projects. A century later, the Homes instigated the creation of a woodland garden in the south west of the designed landscape to replace trees uprooted during the infamous gale of 1881. Several thousand tons of peat were hauled by horse and cart from the Lammermuir hills to the site of the present Dundock Wood to create the acidic conditions necessary for colourful rhododendrons and azaleas to flourish. A similarly bold late 19th century plan to remodel the entire house in Tudor style, however, failed to come to fruition.

During the 20th century, The Hirsel continued to function as a private family residence and a working agricultural estate. New social horizons and environmental concerns, however, led to a diversification of land use. By 1948, a golf-course had been opened within the policies and certainly by the 1950s, members of the public could acquire tickets to stroll in the grounds. During the mid 1970s, the old steading was converted to accommodate visitor facilities. The 14th Earl, meanwhile, had renounced his peerage to serve as Prime Minister from 1963-4. From 1979-84, archaeological work carried out by Durham University within the estate revealed some of the earlier history of the landscape. In addition to evidence for prehistoric occupation, excavations revealed a multi-phased medieval church with a cemetery containing burials from the 11th to 17th centuries. Presently, The Hirsel remains the private home of the Homes but the adjacent grounds of the estate are managed and maintained as an important local amenity resource with way-marked trails, bird-hides, exhibition spaces and information boards provided for the many visitors.


  • 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


  • Lake
  • Description: The lake was constructed in a marshy area shown as a moss on a map dated 1760. It covers almost 11 hectares and has high nature conservation value.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Icehouse
  • Garden Seat
  • Description: A rustic wooden bower which is present on the 1864 plan but was probably rebuilt around 1900.
  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Prominently sited on a terrace above the Leet valley, The Hirsel is a large three-storey mansion that exhibits different phases of construction from the opening decade of the 18th century through to the mid-19th century.
  • Earliest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Coldstream and District




  • Historic Scotland