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The early-18th-century landscape at Penicuik was designed by William Adair for Sir John Clerk, following Sir John's poetical and pastoral ideas. The River North Esk flows through the policies and is integrated into the design. There are many structures on the estate such as follies and bridges, several ponds and an early-18th-century semi-circular walled garden. The formal gardens around New Penicuik House date from the early-20th century and a second walled garden from the late-19th 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:

Location and Setting

Penicuik House is situated on the eastern edge of the Pentland Hills some 9.5 miles (15km) south of the centre of Edinburgh. The A766 forms the north western boundary of the policies and the A701 forms the south eastern boundary; these roads converge approximately 1 mile (2km) to the east of the house in the centre of the town of Penicuik. The River North Esk flows through the policies in a north-easterly direction. The south bank of the river rises steeply to the upland moorland of Hare Moss. The north bank of the river to the east of the house also rises steeply before levelling out across the plateau on which the house stands. Directly south of the house the land slopes away more gently and forms an amphitheatre around the semi- circular walled garden which stands on the bank of the river.

The River North Esk is joined by several tributaries on its way through the park including the Cornton Burn which flows through the walled garden, the Hare Burn which flows through the woods to the south of the house, and the Silver Burn which joins the North Esk to the east of the house. Their valleys contribute to the variety of the topography here. There are also three ponds within the designed landscape. The site of Brunstane Castle lies at the south- western edge of the policies whilst the site of the former Ravensneuk Castle is situated in woodland on the south bank of the river. The woodlands of the designed landscape, the policy wall and gate lodges are highly significant features of the local scenery. Good views across the designed landscape can also be gained from the surrounding uplands. Views out to the surrounding hills are important from within the designed landscape of Penicuik.

Penicuik House stands within some 1,386 acres (561ha) of designed landscape which extends north and west to the A766, as far south as Brunstane Castle, south-east to the A701 and to the town of Penicuik. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by a plan of 1689 (RHP 9369), a plan of 1753 (RHP 9375), Roy's map of c.1750, Ainslie's map of 1796, the lst edition OS map of c.1850, the 2nd edition of c.1900 and the modern edition. Comparison of Roy's map with the lst edition OS map indicates that, post 1750, the designed landscape was extended from its central core around the house to its present form.

Important features in the design include the High and Low Ponds and Hurley Pond. Roy's map indicates the presence of Hurley and High Ponds; since 1750, the square form of High Pond has been lost and it is now an irregular-shaped loch whilst Hurley Pond appears considerably smaller now than it was in the mid-18th century. Hurley Cove has a subterranean passage, 147' long, 7' high and 6' broad with a dark cell in the centre which can seat 6-8 persons. It runs beneath the ridge which runs parallel with the River North Esk and Hurley Pond. The River North Esk itself remains a significant feature of the design. The view south from the house across the river valley was also an important feature; the vista was closed by Allan Ramsay's Monument which stands on the edge of the woodland shelter strip which runs through the farmland from Ravensneuk.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Old Penicuik House, listed category A, was built between 1761-69 by Sir James Clerk, with the assistance of John Baxter, and has been described as the ideal of a Scottish Palladian House (Colin MacWilliam, 1978}. The end pavilions were added in 1857 by David Bryce. The interior, including the painted ceilings of Ossian's Hall by Alexander Runciman, was destroyed by fire in 1899. The structure is now in a dangerous condition and urgently requires remedial works.

New Penicuik House, also listed category A, was built in 1760 as stables and offices but was converted to a mansion house in 1900 following the fire in the Old House. Georgian in design, the four arms of the block, each two storeys high, are centred on a courtyard. The Doocot is octagonal, crowned by a high dome, and is a reproduction of Arthur's Oven which stood on the banks of the River Carron, Stirlingshire, until its destruction in 1743. There are some 846 nest holes inside the doocot and the potence remains.

The gazebo of Eskfield, listed category B, was built in the walled garden by the River North Esk after 1730. It is two storeys high with a slatted roof. The Flag Tower on Knight's Law, listed category B, was built between 1748-51. It is a three-storey, circular coursed-rubble building with a doocot incorporated in the first storey which has 1,356 nest holes. Allan Ramsay's Monument, also listed category B, is a high droved ashlar obelisk which stands on the edge of Cauldshoulder's Park. It is thought to have been erected c.1760 by Sir James Clerk. The Centurion's Bridge, listed B, spans the River North Esk to the south of the house. The exact date of construction is uncertain. The Chinese gate at the end of Cauldshoulders Avenue was built by James Blaikie in 1758. The Chinese Bridge, situated to the south of the house, is of similar construction and presently in poor condition. A well head stands near the Chinese Bridge and carried fresh spring water to the house. Spear Lodge and Gates were built between 1872-3 to the design of Peddie and Kinnear.


Parkland formed the setting of the new Penicuik House built in the 1760s; it extended on all sides except to the north-west and incorporated the remnants of the formal avenues shown on Roy's map which radiated from the previous house, Newbiggin. The East Avenue was planted in 1728 and was followed by South Cauldshoulders Avenue ten years later. The Low Pond was incorporated within the park to the south of the house. All the parks were enclosed by woodland, and the ha-ha to the east of the house is reputed to be the first ha-ha to be built in Scotland.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the area of park to the north and east of the house was reduced by further tree planting and the addition of the kitchen garden. The parks overlooked by the east front of the house and stables are enclosed by ha-ha walls. The main drive from Spear's Gate to the house sweeps between them. The majority of trees date from c.1870 and include specimens of oak, beech and lime. Walks lead from the house to the ponds, walled garden and Hurley Cove.


Woodland was established as part of the designed landscape by Sir John Clerk in the first half of the 18th century. The extent of his planting is shown on Roy's map. The largest area of woodland is shown along the south bank of the River North Esk; an avenue through it extends towards Allan Ramsay's Monument. Roy's map also indicates woodland around High Pond which had, at that time, a regular square form and this formality was echoed in the rides which cut through the wood. Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet, is recorded as having planted many oaks in the policies but beech was also a dominant component and the majority of the oldest trees today are specimens of this genus.

Extensive replanting took place in the late 18th/early 19th century when the policies were remodelled. These woods followed the courses of the Cornton and Silver Burns and formed the enclosures to the parkland. Serpentine Wood was replanted at the time of the coronation of George VI. The majority of the other woods have been replanted since World War II and are composed of a large proportion of softwood. Hardwood trees remain on the perimeter of the policies and on the edge of the main drives to the house.

The Gardens

The American Garden is situated to the south-west of the stable-block and west of the house. An ornamental walk extends from it around the High Pond. It appears to have been established in the mid-19th century and embellished by Lady Aymee Clerk who was a keen plantswoman in the latter years of that century. The collection was based on conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and other interesting shrubs such as kalmias. An account in the Gardeners' Chronicle of 1901 describes large and healthy bushes of Andromeda floribunda.

The formal gardens at Penicuik are situated within the courtyard of the stable- block and adjacent to its north side. They were laid out by Lady Aymee Clerk following the fire of 1899 when the stable-block was converted into the family home. The courtyard is laid out in the Italian style; the central feature, a fine octagonal fountain, is surrounded by lawn. Paths converge on the fountain from the four inner corners of the courtyard and from the main entrances on the north-east and south-west sides. A path which extends around the square enclosure of the courtyard is separated from the fountain by low box hedging. The garden is further enhanced by specimen yew trees.

The gardens on the north side of the stables are enclosed by a stone wall and fence. The wall piers on the north side of this garden are ornamented by urns. The gardens are further subdivided into two areas; the larger of the two areas is mostly lawn with two central shrub beds in the shape of a Maltese Cross. The smaller garden, which lies adjacent to the east drive, is further subdivided by intersecting paths. Specimen yew, limes and ornamental shrubs stand amid the lawn on the south-east front of the stables.

Walled Garden

There are two walled gardens at Penicuik. The oldest is situated to the south of the house on the north bank of the River North Esk. Built in 1730, it is roughly semi- circular on plan. The Cornton Burn flows through the garden on its way to the river. The pavilion of Eskfield is incorporated within its walls. It is of brick construction with a pedimented gable with vases.

The garden was once famous for its extensive array of glasshouses which were recorded by J.C. Loudon in the early 19th century. It was maintained until World War I and is now partly used as grazing and partly as a private garden to the house which has been constructed within its walls.

The second walled garden was constructed in the 1870s to the north-west of the house. It is rectangular on plan and built of brick with hollow walls. The Gardeners' Chronicle of 1901 records disappointment that 'the south walls were devoted primarily to the culture of plums and culinary apples'. Like the other garden, this was maintained until World War I. It now supports a crop of Christmas Trees planted in the 1950s.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

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


Sir Robert and Lady Clerk


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

A very fine example of the early 18th century work of Sir John Clerk of Penicuick which has inspired many other landscapes. The architectural, scenic and nature conservation elements of the design are also particularly fine.

Site History

The designed landscape associated with Newbiggin House was established in the first half of the 18th century by Sir John Clerk to the design of William Adair (The History of Gardening in Scotland). It incorporated many of the pastoral and poetical ideas held by Sir John for which he is renowned. The landscape was extended and informalised after the construction of the new Penicuik House in the 1760s. The structure, established by the mid-19th century, remains today.

The estate of Penicuik was acquired by John Clerk in 1646. His son inherited the estate, at that time called Newbiggin, on his father's death in 1674 and five years later he was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia by King Charles II. His son, John, was born in 1676; educated firstly in Scotland and later at Leyden University, Holland, he was a renowned scholar, politician, poet, musician and artist. In 1700, he was admitted to the Scottish Bar and after the Act of Union in 1707 he became one of five Barons at the Scottish Court of Exchequer. Sir John was a competent architect, working with William Adam in the early 1720s at his home at Mavisbank, Midlothian (q.v.), as well as designing additions for Drumlanrig, Dumfriesshire, the home of his friend the Duke of Queensberry. He was renowned for his ability to translate pastoral and poetical ideas into landscape design and planted extensively at Newbiggin in the early years of the 18th century and before his father's death, making him one of the pioneers of tree planting in Scotland. The house and designed landscape were improved in stages; their designs relied on the association and contrast of ideas and sensations to give a structure and sense of form. Hurley Cove and Pond were completed by Sir John in 1742. He felt the Pond was:-

"noteworthy for its position and solitude, which a poet only could describe. It is surrounded by hills and steep rocks, and no one can get access to it but by the mouth of a frightful cave. To those who enter, therefore, first occurs the memory of the cave of the Cuman Sibyl, for the ruinous aperture, blocked up with stones and briars, strikes the eye. Then there comes upon the wayfarers a shudder, as they stand in doubt whether they are coming among the living or the dead. As, indeed, certain discords set off give finish to musical cadences in such a way as to render the subsequent harmony grateful to the ear, so does the form of this mournful cave, with its long and shady path followed by the light and prospect, make the exit more delightful. For suddenly the darkness disappears, and as it were at the creation of a new world."

A summerhouse, now gone, was added on the edge of Hurley Pond:

"to entice my friends ... to walk for their diversion and in this I myself have found great advantage. The natural beauty of the place and the solitude which one finds here are a great help to the studies and meditation."

The structure of the designed landscape influenced by Sir John is indicated on Roy's map of c.1750. It shows three avenues converging on Newbiggin House, the square form of High Pond surrounded by woodland to the north-west and extensive woodlands along the south bank of the River North Esk. Sir John's son, James, was also educated at Leyden and had travelled extensively in Europe before returning to Scotland in 1750 to manage his father's business interests. He inherited the title of 3rd Baronet on his father's death in 1755. He too took a keen interest in architecture and was responsible for the construction of the new Penicuik House between 1761-69. Sir James died in 1782 and was succeeded by his brother Sir George, 4th Baronet. Sir John Clerk, 5th Baronet, succeeded just two years later and he held the estates until 1798 when the title passed to his nephew, the Right Hon. Sir George Clerk, 6th Baronet.

Sir George was a prominent Parliamentary figure and also an energetic farm improver who was responsible for reorganising the field pattern at Penicuik as well as the construction of new farm buildings. In his latter years, he commissioned enlargements to Penicuik House to the designs of David Bryce. Sir George died in 1867. He was succeeded by his son, Sir James, 7th Baronet, and three years later by his son, Sir George, 8th Baronet.

Sir George and his wife, Lady Aymee spent some of their time in London and, for a period at the end of the 19th century, Penicuik House was let. In 1899, whilst under the tenancy of Mr R.B. Rankin, an Edinburgh lawyer, fire spread through the house, totally destroying the interior. Lady Aymee was subsequently responsible for the conversion of the stables and offices into the dwelling that remains the family home today. She laid out the formal garden within the stable courtyard and the gardens adjacent to the north of the building. Sir George died in 1911 and was succeeded by his son. Sir John Clerk succeeded his father as 10th Baronet in 1943. He continues to manage the estate and is currently involved in promoting an appeal fund for the restoration of the house.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: New Penicuik House
  • Grade: A
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: The Centurion's Bridge
  • Grade: B


  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Old Penicuik House, listed category A, was built between 1761-69 by Sir James Clerk, with the assistance of John Baxter, and has been described as the ideal of a Scottish Palladian House.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Well Head
  • Pond
  • Description: High Pond which was originally square.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Pond
  • Description: Hurley Pond and Cove, completed in 1742.
  • Latest Date:
  • Dovecote
  • Gazebo
  • Earliest Date:
  • Folly
  • Description: Flag Tower incorporating a doocot.
  • Obelisk
  • Description: Allan Ramsey's monument.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Electoral Ward

Penicuik South West




  • Historic Scotland