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Kinross House


The gardens at Kinross House were restored in the early-20th century, overlaid on the bones of a late-17th-century formal design. The central axis, flanked by herbaceous borders, focuses on Castle Island on Loch Leven where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. The parkland planting at Kinross House dates largely from the 19th century. Part of the parkland has been converted to a golf course.

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:

Location and Setting

Kinross House is situated on the eastern edge of the town of Kinross about a mile (1.5km) east of the M90 motorway. It lies on a peninsula on the western shore of Loch Leven overlooking Castle Island and Loch Leven Castle. The designed landscape is contained by Loch Leven to the east and south, by the town to the west and by the road to Balgedie to the north. The low lying site is made up of morainic gravels with, in some areas, underlying boulder clay. The climate is typical of central Scotland and the grounds are fairly exposed to the easterly winds blowing across the Loch. The garden is protected from them by high walls. To the west, lies the town of Kinross which has expanded over the years and now extends up to the entrance gates. Most of the land around the town's new development is farmed; on the eastern side, Loch Leven extends to the Lomond Hills.

From the house, there are panoramic views eastwards across Loch Leven to the Lomond Hills, particularly Bishop Hill, and south towards Benarty Hill 1,168' (356m). Castle Island and the ruined remains of Loch Leven Castle are an important foreground to these views. On the western side the long views over the Town to the Ochil Hills are carefully framed to provide one vista to the west and another to the north. Both the views to Castle Island and westward to Glendevon Forest are part of the strong axis which runs east/west through the centre of the house. The woodland canopy covering the southern side of the peninsula acts as a foil for the Town and is most effective when seen from the motorway, especially driving north.

The house lies in the centre of the gardens at the southern end of the policies. The strong east/west axis is emphasised on the west side by the avenue leading to the entrance gates. The walled kitchen garden lies just to the south of this entrance. On the east side Loch Leven Castle acts like a ruined folly ending the vista which runs through the middle of the garden. Behind the garden walls there are two narrow shelterbelts. To the north, the policies stretch to the Ury Burn and the designed landscape extends to an area of some 437 acres (177ha).

Historical evidence of the designed landscape relies on several plans attributed to Sir William Bruce, the architect owner of Kinross in the late 17th century; a plan of the estate, showing Bruce's formal landscape, dated before 1836 but in the same hand as one of Bruce's sketches, and three plans attributed to Alexander Edward; General Roy's plan of 1750; the 1st edition OS plan, dated 1854; the 2nd edition, dated 1896 and the 3rd edition, dated 1923.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Kinross House, listed category A, was designed by William Bruce. Other designers included the Dutch stonemasons, Peter Paul Boyse and Cornelius van Nerven. The classical house is a rectangular building with two main storeys, an attic and a basement. The Garden Walls, Gate Piers, and Summerhouses are listed along with of the house.

Kinross Stables are listed category B. The East Burial Ground, listed category C(S), is the central aisle of the old parish kirk, built in about 1675 and abandoned in 1742. It was reconstructed in 1860 as the burial place of the Bruces of Arnot. The Watch Tower just to the east of the church was built in 1852 and is also listed category C(S). Home Farm, North Lodge and the Kennels were built at the beginning of the 20th century as they are not shown on either the 1st or 2nd edition OS plans.


The undated sketch of the policies found at Penicuik has been attributed to Bruce and the annotations are in similar handwriting to the plans for the gardens. This sketch shows the extent of the policies, the formal landscape, the walled Kitchen garden and the layout of the gardens exactly as they are shown on Bruce's sketches. The extent of the designed landscape has remained almost the same as today. On the plan, the southern section of the policies was planted with trees and in the woodland long rides were edged with avenues. A wide avenue crossed at right angles to the central axis running through the house, just before the first entrance court, setting up a cross axis similar to the one at Balcaskie. Two of the subsidiary rides are now used as roads through the policies. Most of the woodland in the southern part except for the shelterbelt had been removed by the date of the 1st edition OS.

Although the house was unoccupied for most of the 19th century, the factor looked after the estate and when, in the 1840s, Loch Leven was lowered to reduce the risk of flooding and to ease the draining of the marshy land, further planting took place as many of the trees date from this period. In 1854, there were a few specimen trees scattered about in the eastern fields and one or two clumps in the western ones. By the 1923 OS plan, many more trees and clumps had been added and the policies laid out. Recently a golf course has been made and the fairways have been marked with plantations of conifers reducing the parkland quality.


Around the house, the woodland is mainly deciduous planted around 1830 and 1890. In the policies, several conifer plantations were added in the early 20th century but these woods do not cover the same area as those planted in the 17th century which extended as far as the road which runs to North Lodge. In them Bruce is known to have planted Scots pine, oak and horse chestnuts in some quantity. The plantations on either side of the entrance are mainly, oak, sycamore, beech and lime, with some Scots pine.

A mixture of trees mainly lime, beech and oak line the entrance avenue and were planted around 1840. More replacements were added in about 1900 and some in about 1930. The narrow strip along the southern boundary was planted at the same time as the entrance plantations and the wind has sculpted the outer line of hardwoods into fantastic shapes. On the western side of the policies, young plantations of conifers mark the fairways of the recent golf course.

Woodland Garden

Under the hardwood canopy in the plantation just to the north of the garden, Rhododendrons and other exotic trees and shrubs were planted in about 1920. A path leading to the boathouse, built soon after 1902, meanders through the shrubbery. On the east side of the garden between the wall and the shore, a tennis court was built. Most of the hardwood trees were planted in about 1840 following the change of water level.

The Gardens

The gardens were created by Sir William Bruce between 1683 and 1700 and were started at least two years before the foundations for the house were laid. Two sketches of their layout exist and they are also shown on the larger survey of the policies. Recently some of the early records have been discovered. Thomas Back, the mason, was contracted to build the garden and orchard walls in 1683. At the same time, the sundial was constructed by John Hamilton, the attractive ogee summerhouses were built by James Anderson and the two Dutch stonemasons, Peter Paul Boyse and Cornelius van Nerven, decorated the magnificent Fish Gate.

Bruce's simple design shows the house standing in the centre of a rectangular garden enclosed by four walls. The front entrance was a large square courtyard and two narrow borders ran along the outside walls. In front of the house there was a flat grass platt or lawn, cut into quarters. The garden on the east side of the house was divided in half by a bank. On the terrace just outside the house there were twelve square areas marked as parterres on the plan but only the four in front of the house are shown with ornate patterns in them. The eastern section was an orchard set out in four equal compartments. All of this was removed in the early 19th century and, when Dr Ross began his restoration, the garden was grazed by livestock.

Without the aid of the Bruce sketches, Sir Basil and Dr Ross restored the garden using contemporary evidence. They planted the yew and holly hedges to accentuate the axis to Loch Leven Castle. Sir Basil added corkscrew shaped topiary in the four quarters of the square parterre sited in the centre of the upper terrace. He also added the circular fountain and the statue. The vista from the lower terrace is defined by yew hedges on either side of the long herbaceous borders leading to the Fish Gate. Colourful borders are also planted all round the outside walls. Further topiary and borders were laid out on the southern side of the house near one of the attractive entrance pavilions.

Walled Garden

These gardens are shown in outline on the 17th century sketch plan of the policies but by the late 19th century the enclosing walls are not shown on either the 1st or 2nd edition OS plans. The present garden appears on the 3rd edition of 1923 and could have been built around 1902, when the house was restored. This garden is now completely derelict and unused.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The gardens are open daily from April to September.


Exit at junction 6 of the M90, taking the road to Kinross.


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 impressive 17th century formal landscape, extended during the mid-19th century. The gardens of the category A listed house were restored in the early 20th century and look out towards Castle Island on Loch Leven, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned.

Site History

The formal landscape was laid out in the late 17th century and the policies were extended during the mid-19th century. The gardens were restored and the grounds planted in the first decade of the 20th century.

In 1675, Sir William Bruce bought Kinross estate from the Earl of Morton whose forebears had controlled Loch Leven Castle and guarded Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was imprisoned on the island between 1567 and 1568. The peninsula was used as the embarking point for the island and a small settlement grew around the old parish church sited on the promontory jutting out into the Loch. On the foreshore near the landing stage, stood the first Kinross House just to the north-east of the present one.

Bruce designed the new house and garden so that the central axis would focus on the ruined Loch Leven Castle in just the same way as he designed his house at Balcaskie which was lined up with the Bass Rock. Alexander Edward is thought to have acted as his assistant. Work began on the gardens in 1683 and they were largely completed before the house was started in about 1684-85. Bruce is said to have left his wife at Balcaskie when he first bought Kinross. He sold Balcaskie about the same time as he started to build the new house. Sir William Bruce introduced classical architecture to Scotland and Kinross House is considered to be his masterpiece. He was a politician before he became an architect, and was always a Royalist. He was involved in the Restoration of the Monarchy and was knighted by Charles II. In 1671 he was appointed King's Surveyor and Master of Works. During the latter part of his life, he was imprisoned more than three times for his support of the Royalist cause.

The quality and style of the house has been recognised since it was built. In 1753, Daniel Defoe described Kinross; "At the West End of the Lake (the Gardens reaching down to the very Water's edge) stands the most beautiful and regular Piece of Architecture in all Scotland". Many contemporary craftsmen worked on the house. From the 1680's considerable sums were spent on the gardens and grounds. Seedlings were imported from England and Holland. "Firs and Oaks" were planted in large numbers and there is a surviving account of Bruce's son, John, sending back a box of plants from Paris in 1681 including over 300 horse chestnut seedlings.

Bruce gave Kinross to John in 1700, ten years before he died, at well over eighty years of age. John was married to the Dowager Duchess of Montrose but they had no children and his sister inherited. She had married Sir Thomas Hope and they added Bruce to their name. The last Bruce-Hopes to own Kinross sold it in 1775 to Thomas Graham. Thomas made his money in India and left his estate to his daughter who had married Sir James Montgomery. Their descendant still owns the property today. The Montgomery's preferred to live at the family home at Stobo Castle in Peebleshire. In 1819 the contents of Kinross House were sold and it remained empty until about 1881. Even though, the house was not used, the factor continued to manage the policies and much planting took place following the lowering of Loch Leven in the 1840s. In 1902, Sir Basil Montgomery began the task of restoring the house and remaking the garden. He was assisted by Dr Thomas Ross who painstakingly researched the building and cleverly restored and adapted the house for 20th century use. The family have lived at Kinross House ever since.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The classical house is a rectangular building with two main storeys, an attic and a basement.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Ornamental Pond
  • Fountain
  • Topiary
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland