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Melville Castle


The designed landscape dates from around 1765 to the early-19th century, but the 18th-century structure has been eroded. A picturesque approach drive winds along the River North Esk through parkland with a few early-19th-century plantings. All that remains of the ornamental gardens is a walled sunken area. The current plantings around the house date from the 20th century. The rhomboidal kitchen garden is in separate ownership. Melville Castle is currently run as a luxury hotel and conference centre.

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

Melville Castle is situated some 6 miles (9.5km) south-east of the centre of Edinburgh, in the valley of the river North Esk. The main A7(T) runs along the northern and eastern boundaries. The A768 runs along the southern boundary, linking Eskbank with Loanhead. To the north-east, parallel to the A7, runs the A68(T), which is joined by a short road linking the carriageways of Melville and its neighbour, Dalkeith House, and reputed to have been specially constructed for George IV's visit in 1828.

The town of Dalkeith lies to the east of the site and, to the south, are the mining communities of Bonnyrigg and Lasswade. To the north and east, separating the site from the encroaching urban fringe of Edinburgh, is a strip of agricultural land which has been largely spoilt by mining operations. The field to the north of the East Lodge, once part of the estate, is now run as a nursery garden centre by Dobbies. The southern-most corner of their land, seen from the main drive to the Castle, is now a rubbish tip. The site has only some significance in the surrounding landscape due to its valley setting and, for the same reason, has no significant outward views.

Melville Castle lies on the north bank of the valley of the river North Esk. The designed landscape extends to the woodlands on the north and south of the river, to the A7(T) in the east and the B768 to the west. The kitchen garden stands to the north of the Castle and policy woods amid fields which were once enclosed as part of agricultural improvements made by the first Viscount Melville. The woodland strips which once sheltered this area have now largely disappeared. Historically, the designed landscape extended further south than today and included fields between the woods south of the river North Esk and the A768. Reference to the 1st edition OS map shows that this area was once considered part of the parkland. The designed landscape today extends over some 282 acres (114ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Melville Castle, listed A, is a castellated mansion designed by James Playfair between 1786-88. It has been run as a hotel since World War II. The stables and coach-house, listed C, were designed by James Playfair and are currently being refurbished for residential use. The East Lodge is owned by the hotel and used for staff accommodation. The West and South Lodges are privately owned. Esk Cottage, to the west of the stable- block, has recently been restored for residential use. Willie's Tower, a 15th century lookout, remains in the wood to the north-west of the Castle and is now only visible from the farm cottages and access roads to the north of the kitchen garden.


Alexander Edward is recorded as working for William Bruce as his assistant at Melville in c.1695. There are no records of their plans or whether they were carried out. The parkland today extends to the east and south of the Castle and across the river as far as the south drive and west beyond the woodland to include Nancy's Knowe. The original west drive through the woodlands to the north-west of the Castle is now blocked. Parkland trees date from the time of the 1st Viscount and include sycamore and limes. Elm and lime remain from the Victorian period, many of the former having been badly affected by Dutch Elm disease. New trees have recently been planted in the parks. The east drive along the riverside is long and winding and makes a picturesque approach to the Castle.


The OS Gazetteer of 1882 describes 'Grounds of Great Beauty' and notes that 'Melville's Beechy grove' is celebrated in Sir Walter Scott's 'Grey Brother', whilst 11 beeches and 9 oaks were described in 1881 as being among the 'old and remarkable trees in Scotland'. In Queen Mary's time David Rizzio is reputed to have planted the Spanish Chestnut which survived until recent years by the river near the stable-block. The 1st Viscount Melville, in his time as laird, is said to have planted woods which contained every tree that grew wild in Britain. His Victorian successors added to the woodlands by extensive conifer planting. Today, the woods are largely coniferous, having been replanted in the post war period. Some of the original beech remain in pockets, particularly to the south-west of Esk Cottage, and a few Victorian beech, lime, Scots pine and other mixed conifers remain along the east drive and through the woods. Rhododendron has thickly colonized large areas of the woods. It would, however, appear that much of the extensive collection of conifers has gone in the course of post-war timber felling. A wooded knoll of young beech, 'Nancy's Knowe', is significant in the park in the south-west corner of the landscape.

The Gardens

Little remains of any ornamental garden today. Some conifers planted in this century stand to the east of the house and rose beds have been made and planted by the hotel proprietors. A formal garden which once stood to the south of the house has gone and a trellis arbour, known to have existed on the lawn until 1962, has since been removed. There is a paddock to the east of the house and a small walled sunken garden which has been in use in recent years as a kitchen garden but has since fallen into disuse. The 1st edition OS map of c.1855 indicates the site of a bowling green to the south of Esk Cottage. This site is now open woodland with mixed Rhododendron and holly throughout. The pond which now stands in this area is noted on the 2nd edition OS map but not the 1st. Dense areas of mature yew remain around the curling pond to the west of the south drive, indicating that a more ornamental area once existed within what is now commercial plantation.

Walled Garden

The main kitchen garden lies to the north of the policy woodlands. Rhomboidal in shape, it is enclosed by brick walls, all of which, with the exception of the south wall, are in very good condition. Between 1934 and 1980, it was run as a market garden but was then sold to a neighbouring farmer and is now grazed.

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

The lawns, parkland and woodland still provide the setting for a category A listed house, but the 18th century design has been badly eroded.

Site History

The designed landscape dates from c.1765 to the early 19th century but has been in decline since World War II. Readily available mapped documentary evidence is based on the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps of c.1850 and 1910.

Earliest records indicate that Melville, or Male-ville as it was originally named, belonged to an Anglo-Norman Baron called Male who was governor of Edinburgh Castle in the reign of Malcolm IV. It remained in his family until the time of Robert II when, through marriage, it passed to Sir John Ross of Hawkhead. Mary Queen of Scots maintained a hunting lodge at Melville and some large trees survived from that period until recent years.

In 1705 Sir David Rennie purchased the estate and in 1766 his daughter, Elizabeth, succeeded to it. The previous year she had married Henry Dundas, the 4th son of Robert Dundas of Arniston, who became MP for Edinburgh between 1774 and 1802 and was one of the most famous Lord Advocates of Scotland. A drawing in 1770 shows a Scottish Baronial-style tower house set in grazed parkland with wooded hillside beyond. Through Elizabeth and her sister, the estate passed to Henry Dundas, who commissioned Playfair to design the new house which became one of the centres of society gathering of the day. Both George IV and Queen Victoria visited Melville. Henry Dundas was made Viscount Melville in 1802 and continued to carry out improvements to the estate until his death in 1811. Since then, until 1982, the estate has been held intact by successive members of the Dundas family, with the exception of the area now held by Dobbie's nurseries which was gifted by the family to the Benedictine Order.

Following World War II, the house was leased as a hotel. This lease was taken over in 1969 by Mr H.L. Weibye who purchased the Castle in 1982 when 740 acres of the estate were put up for sale in lots by the 9th Viscount Melville.


  • 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


  • Tower
  • Description: Willie's Tower, a 15th-century lookout tower.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Melville Castle, listed A, is a castellated mansion designed by James Playfair between 1786-88. It has been run as a hotel since World War II.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Drive
  • Description: A picturesque approach drive.
  • River
  • Description: River North Esk.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: A rhomboidal kitchen garden.
Key Information





Principal Building



18th Century (1701 to 1800)








  • Historic Scotland