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Oxenfoord Castle


There is extensive late-18th-century parkland at Oxenfoord Castle with 19th-century formal terraced gardens around the house, and a mid- to late-19th-century pinetum and woodland garden.

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

Oxenfoord Castle is situated on the west bank of the River Tyne, some 4 miles (6.5km) south-east of the town of Dalkeith. The river forms the eastern boundary of the site. The A68(T) and the A6093 form the western and northern boundaries respectively. The surrounding landscape is agricultural, flat to the north and rising to the south towards the Moorfoot and Lammermuir Hills. Views out are limited mainly to the estate of Prestonhall on the opposite bank of the River Tyne, the parkland of which is highly significant from the drives of Oxenfoord Castle, and vice versa.

The Castle commands a magnificent position above the River Tyne. The designed landscape extends to the A6093 in the north, south to the confluence of roads at the South Lodge, west to the A68(T) and east to the River Tyne. Documentary evidence of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1863 and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900. Comparison of these maps shows that the extent of the present designed landscape was established in the latter half of the 18th century and has remained consistent ever since. There are 307 acres (124ha) in the designed landscape today.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Oxenfoord Castle, listed A, was designed by Robert Adam between 1780-82 and included part of the older 16th century Tower. Further extensions were made by William Burn between 1840-42. There are two striking statues on the roof of a horse and an ox, the heraldic supporters of the arms of the Viscounts of Oxfurd.

Oxenfoord Bridge, listed B, was built in 1783 to carry a new drive across the Glen to the north of the house by Alexander Stevens. The Coach-house and Stables, listed C(S), lie 1km north-west of the Castle and are centred on a courtyard, enclosed by a wall, with an entrance gate on the south side. Cranston Riddel was the estate factor's house and lies to the west of the stables. Cranston Church, listed B, was built in 1824, and rebuilt after a fire in 1861. It replaced a previous church sited in the burial ground to the west of the Castle which was destroyed by fire in 1796. The North Lodge, listed B, is now privately owned and about to be refurbished.

There are two sundials in the Dutch Garden which are described at length in 'Cranston, a Parish History' 1907; one with bears rampant is thought to be very old and is in need of restoration. The South and West Lodges are leased by the school from the Estate.


The parkland of Oxenfoord is extensive, and documentary evidence and historical accounts indicate that it was well wooded with distinctive clumps in the north park. The north and south drives sweep through the park; the Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 describes the former as 'excellent' and the latter 'less fortunate, showing only one side of the house instead of coming up to it diagonally so as to show two sides'. These drives are now used only for farm access and the main entrance today is the west drive, created in the late 19th century. A new beech avenue has recently been planted on the latter. The parks are now farmed; they are now more sparsely wooded than they were in the 19th century. The Curling Pond to the south of the Cranston Dean Bridge has become silted up and this area is now very marshy.


The earliest record of woodland at Oxenfoord is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750 which indicates a large area of woodland through what is now the centre of the policies. It was thinned and incorporated within the parkland of the late 18th century improvements.

Gardeners' Magazine describes 'a great many hollies planted in the young woods' which are thought to be those indicated on the 1st edition OS map in the north- west and south-east corners of the policies. Woodland remains in these sites today but has been replanted with coniferous species.

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden lies to the west of the house and was originally laid out with a series of footpaths encircling the walled garden. In the late 19th century, the west drive, which originally ran from the West Lodge to the stables, was extended to meet the north drive at Oxenfoord Bridge.

The Broad Walk runs between the churchyard at the West Drive, to the southern edge of the grass terrace at the rear of the house. A Sequoia Avenue was planted by the 9th Earl on either side of the Broad Walk c.1863 to commemorate the marriage of King Edward VII. These trees were part of an interesting collection established throughout the garden around this time. Those remaining in 1967 were measured by Alan Mitchell. During the last year, many trees have been planted, including elm, copper beech, oak and pine. Rhododendron, holly and yew form the dominant understorey components which have become almost totally overgrown in places. In clearings, invasive sycamore seedlings have become established.

Lady Marjorie's Garden lies to the east of the walled garden. It is now overgrown; some Primulas remain but the majority of plant material has gone. There are no accessible plans of the original design.

The Gardens

The terraced formal gardens were laid out by the 8th Lord Stair and were said to have been inspired by those of Castle Kennedy where, according to an account of 1932, 'the land was more suited to terracing than at Oxenfoord' and the end product much more successful.

The terrace to the south-west of the house is now grass with some remaining yew trees, one of which was recently removed. Steps down from this lawn to a perimeter walk were recently cleared.

A Dutch Garden on the east side of the house is enclosed by a yew hedge, clipped in crenallations. It is predominantly grass with four square beds cut out of the lawn and triangular beds at each corner. Plant material is largely herbaceous with some flowering shrubs. Two sundials stand in the garden. Beyond this garden on the site of another terrace shown in the 1st edition OS map, now stands a tennis court. The Stair Burial Ground lies between the west drive and the walled garden. Cranston Church was sited here until the fire of 1796.

Walled Garden

The Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 reported that the kitchen garden 'was undergoing a thorough reform by Mr. Gardiner, a master in his art'. It is not known when it was originally built. The 1st edition OS map of 1854 shows an extensive walled garden with an additional walled enclosure within it, which appears to have been laid out as an orchard, and an unusually large number of conservatories and glasshouses. For the last twenty years, it has been run as a market garden.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Open occasionally under Scotland's Garden Scheme. For details see:


The Honorable and Mrs Michael Dalrymple


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

Dating from the 18th century, the designed landscape has important historical links to Sir John Dalrymple, who wrote the 'Essay on Landscape Gardening.' The parkland makes a major contribution to the surrounding scenery, and together with the woodland and remains of the gardens, forms an impressive setting for the A listed castle.

Site History

The designed landscape which remains today was largely developed in the late 18th century with early Victorian additions. Documentary evidence is confined to General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1854, and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900. Other estate plans are thought to exist although their location is uncertain (A quantity of estate plans have been uncovered since our visit and can be made available for research).

Between the 12th century and the time of David II, the Riddel family owned the lands on which Oxenfoord Castle now stands. They were succeeded by Murrays and then MacGills, who built the original Tower House in the 16th century. James MacGill was created Viscount Oxfurd in 1651. He was succeeded by his son Robert in 1663 who carried out extensive building work on his return from a prolonged visit abroad. It is thought that he laid out much of the landscape which is illustrated on General Roy's map of c.1750. In the end, he lost much of the family fortune and part of the estates. In the absence of a male heir on his death in 1705, the estate passed through other members of the family until 1758 when it was inherited by Thomas Hamilton of Fala, a grandson of the 1st Viscount Oxfurd. His daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1760 against his will, a cousin, John Dalrymple, who succeeded to the title of Lord Dalrymple of Cousland in 1771. Sir John was a lawyer, politician, scientist and improving landlord on his estates at Cranstoun and Oxenfoord, which his wife inherited in 1779. He was a friend of Robert Adam who had been a fellow student of Sir John's at Edinburgh University and who he commissioned to rebuild the house. He was the author of the 'Essay on Landscape Gardening' originally written in the 1750s and published anonymously in 1774 as 'Essays on Different Natural Situations of Gardens', an influential work of the period. It was he who laid out the structure of the designed landscape, some of which remains today.

He was succeeded in 1810 by his son who, thirty years later, also inherited the title of 8th Earl of Stair. He was created Lord Oxenfoord of Cousland in 1841 and was made a Knight of the Thistle in 1847. He extended the park, laid out the terraces on the south and east side of the house and commissioned William Burn to design extensions to the Castle which almost doubled its size. In 1853, his brother, North, succeeded as 9th Earl of Stair. The 9th Earl continued to develop the pinetum established by his brother to the south of the house. His son, John, had married Louisa Dalrymple Hamilton, heiress of Bargany, Ayrshire, in 1846, and they became the 10th Lord & Lady Stair in 1864. They then concentrated on the development of the family home at Lochinch and little is known of Oxenfoord's development from then until 1931 when the school which occupies the Castle today was established by Lady Marjorie Dalrymple. The school leases the Castle and several estate buildings from the Oxenfoord Estate Trust and, although a school, the house still has its major contents.


  • 18th Century
  • Late 18th Century
Associated People
Features & Designations


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

  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Coach house and stables
  • Grade: C(S)
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Cranston Church
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: North Lodge
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Oxenfoord Bridge
  • Grade: B


  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Oxenfoord Castle, listed A, was designed by Robert Adam between 1780-82 and included part of the older 16th century Tower. Further extensions were made by William Burn between 1840-42.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Sundial
  • Topiary
  • Description: A castellated yew hedge around three sides of the 'Dutch Garden'.
  • Avenue
  • Description: A 19th-century sequoia avenue interplanted recently with firs.
  • Tree Feature
  • Description: Pinetum.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century





Open to the public


Electoral Ward





  • Historic Scotland