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Thirlestane Castle (also known as Lauder Fort)


The designed landscape at Thirlestane Castle features early-19th-century parkland and considerable deciduous woodland planted throughout the 19th and early-20th centuries. The late-20th-century formal rose garden is a re-design of the one laid out in 1920. The Southern Upland Way passes through the parkland.

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

An informal park and woodland landscape presided over by Thirlestane Castle, now a key visitor attraction and venue. Established mostly during the first half of the 19th century, and replacing an earlier 17th to 18th-century formal landscape, the designed landscape contains a range of historically and architecturally important structures, including lodge buildings, gates, stable offices and an 18th-century bridge.

Location and Setting

Located immediately to the north and east of the historic burgh town of Lauder, the designed landscape of Thirlestane straddles the floodplain and lower valley sides of the Leader Water. The upland valley landscape is characterised by the flat, well-defined valley floor, evenly sloping valley sides and the arable and improved pasture-lands of surrounding farms. Lauderdale has long formed an important corridor of communication and the present castle at Thirlestane, situated on a slightly higher, wooded bluff, occupies the site of earlier medieval and post-medieval fortifications. This impressive building, together with other prominent architectural features and a long swathe of parkland, contributes significantly to the wider village landscape, otherwise increasingly subject to housing development. Other distinctive features of Thirlestane include the route of the long-distance southern upland way, crossing the Leader Water to the south of the Castle, and a significant number of tributary burns, including Earnscleugh Water and Harry Burn. Away from the core policies, land use includes commercial forestry, grazing for livestock, amenity shoots, occasional equestrian activities and a caravan park at the south-western corner. Encompassing some 447ha (1104ac), and defined by distinctive boundary walls along much of its perimeter, the designed landscape is bounded by the village of Lauder and the main arterial routes of the A68 and A697 to the west and east, respectively. Minor roads that cross the Leader Water at New Mills to the north, and at Lauder Bridge, to the south, form the other boundaries.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Thirlestane Castle is a complex, visually striking domestic castle exhibiting three principal phases of building work executed from the 16th to the 19th century. The original main block was constructed 1587-90, with external paraphernalia of corner towers, turrets and wall-walks designed to impress rather than withstand attack (Cruft et al. 2006:719). Late Renaissance-Baronial extensions and remodelling, including a new, dramatic west front with classical entrance and flanking pavilions, were executed in 1673 for the 2nd Earl by Sir William Bruce and master mason, Robert Mylne. Large scale additions in high Victorian Scots Baronial style, by William Burn 1840-44, include remodelled upper works, the ogee-roofed central tower, service court and swept spirelets of the north and south wings. Coped, rubble boundary walls extend around the policies, punctuated at the south entrance by the Eagle Gates, and adorned by stone eagle statuettes, square-plan gatepiers, and ornamental cast-iron gates. To the north west of the castle, a large rectangular, earlier to mid-19th century rubble-built walled garden with recently repaired walls (2008), includes a range of garden stores and boiler rooms on the exterior north wall. A multi-gabled gardener's cottage, built c.1841 probably by William Burn, stands just outside the north-west corner of the garden and bears some similarity to the contemporary Wyndhead Stables Lodge at the west entrance to Thirlestane (William Burn, 1841), with its basket-arched porch recess and diamond-glazed pattern windows. Just off this drive are attractive, 2-storey, estate stable offices, constructed 1844 also to a design by Burn. Arranged around a patterned cobbled courtyard and built from greywacke-sandstone rubble with red-sandstone, ashlar dressings, they are notable for the large moulded round-arched courtyard entrance, surmounted by a Maitland family crest, and surviving timber stalls. Castle Wynd, Hume Lodge, located just within the boundary wall, and the oldest of the lodge buildings, is a simple, early 19th-century, whinstone cottage. In contrast, Harryburn House is a notable country residence, built 1827 to designs by John Smith of Darnick for a local banker and town clerk. A rectangular-plan, symmetrical structure of 2-storeys and raised basement, this house is distinguished by its Greek portico and Regency style balcony, and associated piend-roofed former stables, ornate gates, gatepiers and wrought-iron railings. Chuckie Lodge, at the entrance to the house and possibly also by John Smith, is a picturesque, mid-19th-century, single-storey lodge, notable for its ornamental porch and the decorative surface treatment of coursed river pebbles, or 'chuckie stones' set in cement. On the other side of the Leader Water, the prominent local landmark and intact shell of the 18th-century Norton Farmhouse stands close to the eastern edge of the designed landscape, by the old coach road from Edinburgh to Kelso. Further to the south east is the mid to late 18th-century Drummonds Hall bridge. Spanning the Earnscleugh burn with a wide principal arch and smaller overflow arch, it features coped parapets and elongated voussoirs and is a good example of an early road bridge.

Drives and Approaches

Two principal drives lead to Thirlestane Castle from the south west of the designed landscape. The longer, southern approach is now the principal access route for visitors. It enters via the distinctive Eagle gates, and curves through a plantation before emerging to cross the eastern park, affording good views ahead of the Castle. The west approach from Lauder, which leads past Wyndhead Stables Lodge and the court of stable offices, joins this drive through the park. Both of these routes were established during the reorganisation of the designed landscape under the 8th and 9th Earls of Lauderdale in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and are first depicted on maps of the mid 1820s (NAS RHP3686; Sharp, Crawford and Fowler 1826). A third route, also in place by the 1820s, and flanked by a further lodge at its entrance, approaches the Castle from the north-west and is now mainly used as a service track. Prior to the early 19th century, the Castle had been accessed by a wide, straight, tree-lined approach that led directly from the centre of Lauder to the imposing west front of Thirlestane Castle. Known as 'The Avenue', this formal approach no doubt focused views towards the castle, accentuating the grandeur of arrival.


Attractive, grazed parks featuring both young and old broadleaf specimen trees extend along the floodplain of the Leader valley between Lauder village and Thirlestane Castle, and from Thirlestane Castle north eastwards, towards the large plantation blocks on the other side of the river. This informal parkland landscape was a creation of the late 18th-early 19th century, and an 1826 Survey of the Roads of Lauderdale (NAS RHP3686) proves a good source for appreciating the original intended structure and effect of the parklands, with their curving woodland edging, clumps and specimen trees. While the present number of trees no longer matches this more densely planted parkland landscape, evident from early Ordnance Survey editions (1856-8 OS; 1896-8 OS), surviving majestic limes remain scenically prominent in views across the policies. To mark the new Millennium, two rows of young limes were planted on the site of the former tree-lined avenue in 2000.


The woodlands generally retain their historic structure, evident in early to mid-19th century cartographic sources. The central curving strip that encircles much of the castle, and extends north eastwards along the contour of the river terrace, is composed of mixed broadleaves (lime, horse chestnut, sycamore, ash and beech) and forms an attractive setting not only for the castle, but for a woodland walk, laid out in 1984. The other strips and plantation blocks, however, are now primarily stocked with coniferous trees, grown on a commercial basis. Views to these stark plantations, however, are enhanced by the presence of broadleaves on their outer fringes, while in Standalane Plantation, near the walled garden, some older sycamore and beech survive among the rows of younger conifers.

The Gardens

There are relatively few garden elements at Thirlestane. A diminutive, formal rose garden with 4 symmetrical, angular beds occupies part of the lawn terrace to the south east of the main castle block. First established in the early 20th century, it was converted to a flower garden in the 1930s, with a long, busy herbaceous border and shrubbery, before its removal and the subsequent execution of the present, simpler and more formal design in 1983. Half of this garden has recently been returned to grass to allow for the erection of wedding marquees, leaving just once square area of beds in place. A further rose garden planted in the private Maitland family garden to the north west of the main castle block features a greater range and extent of roses, laid out in beds arranged in circular motifs either side of a central fountain. By the north wing of the castle, there is also a small herb garden, enclosed on three sides by stone walls and featuring a central paved path between densely stocked herb beds.

Walled Garden

Located some 700m to the north west of the castle, this substantial earlier to mid-19th century walled garden is no longer under horticultural cultivation and has been used since the mid-20th century for other purposes, including growing Christmas trees and partridge rearing. Apart from structural elements, such as the outer store and boiler range, and the walls themselves, (repaired and restored in 2008), little survives of the actual garden itself. Ordnance Survey maps of the mid 19th-early 20th centuries reveal a traditional layout with intersecting paths dividing the garden into quadrants, a large range of glasshouses against the inner north wall, and an orchard just outside the west wall. Executed under the direction of landscape gardener Charles H J Smith, the new garden was applauded in a brief magazine write-up in 1842 (Gardener's Magazine 1842: 581). Prior to its construction, historic plans indicate an earlier square garden enclosure, surrounded by trees and located immediately west of the castle in what is now the main parkland area (NAS RHP23084; NAS RHP3715/2). This garden was removed by the early 19th century as part of the wider programme of change in the castle grounds.

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    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

    Notable mainly for its rich architectural heritage, the long established castle policies at Thirlestane also contain a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and scenically prominent parklands. An exceptional series of historic maps and plans, meanwhile, form a vital source of evidence for charting the history of the grounds.

    Main Phases of Landscape Development

    1590s, 1670s, 1840-44 (Thirlestane Castle); Late 18th century-1840s (Informalisation of grounds).

    Site History

    A good sequence of historic engravings, maps and plans help chart the development of the landscape at Thirlestane from the formal castle grounds of the 17th century, to the establishment of informal parks, new entrance ways, and a new suite of estate buildings by the mid-19th century. The principal structure of the present designed landscape is overwhelmingly a product of this 19th century transformation.

    Thirlestane Castle has been under the continuous ownership of the Maitland family since building commenced in the late 16th century. Constructed on the site of earlier fortifications, including a medieval motte, and short-lived artillery fort, the architecturally-ambitious castle was intended as a new chief residence for the Maitlands, already long-established landowners in this part of Lauderdale (Cruft et al. 2006: 49). When work got underway nearly a century later on extending and remodelling the castle, a contemporary plan (1680) and engravings by John Slezer in the 1670s show not only the building itself, but also a series of square, connecting walled forecourts (RCAHMS BWD 42/13; ). One of Slezer's engravings depicts statues on plinths adorning the private castle lawns. Some of these details may only have been proposals, but nonetheless, they provide a general idea of the kind of ordered exterior space thought suitable for the redesigned castle, with its new imposing west front.

    Roy's Military Survey (1747-55) and a 'Protraction of the towne of Lauder' by William Cockburn (1756) give an excellent impression of the formal landscape of the earlier to mid-18th century. A grand, straight avenue, lined with rows of trees leads from the central part of Lauder High Street to the castle. Enclosed parks extend either side of the avenue and feature a square walled garden near the castle front and surrounded by trees. In line with contemporary landscape garden trends, however, subsequent Maitlands (and by now Earls of Lauderdale) sought to do away with the older formal scheme in favour of a more informal panorama, with extended parklands, sinuous perimeter woodlands and longer, curving approach roads.

    The 7th Earl (1718-1789) commissioned the removal of the outer court walls of the castle, while his successor closed the straight formal avenue. A carefully annotated map, prepared in the early 19th century, perhaps offers a snapshot of the landscape part way through this transformative process (1823, NAS RHP3715/2). A label by the old walled garden explains, 'old garden taken away...'. The physical labour and expense of developing the grounds must have been significant. By the mid-19th century, when the Ordnance Survey completed their first survey of the area, woodlands had been planted, new access routes had been laid out and a new estate infrastructure had been developed, consisting of new lodges, stable offices and large walled garden with glasshouses, situated away from the immediate surrounds of the castle (1856-8 OS). Much of the architectural character of the estate can be attributed to architect William Burn, who worked not only on the remodelling of the castle (1840-44), but also on many of these ancillary buildings.

    Minor additions of the late 19th to early 20th centuries include the grand Eagle Gateway and a rose garden by the castle. Thirlestane was used as a school during the unsettled time of the Second World War. Over subsequent years, elements of the designed landscape began to fall into disrepair, most notably the historic fabric of the castle itself. The present owner inherited Thirlestane in 1970 and with the help of grant aid, initiated a campaign of restoration work from 1974-1986. In 1983, the castle was opened to visitors, and in 1984, the owner gifted the main part of the building and its contents to a charitable trust. Since then, work has largely focused on creating visitor facilities within the grounds and developing the site as a venue for weddings and local events. In 2000, glimpses of the former landscape at Thirlestane were created or unearthed ' a new lime avenue, planted for the Millennium, now traces the old, 18th-century formal approach, while archaeological work in advance of the new playground confirmed the partial survival of earthworks associated with the old 16th century artillery fort; the predecessor of the present castle.

    Associated People
    Features & Designations


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


    • Gate
    • Description: The Eagle Gates at the entrance to the property.
    • Sundial
    • Ha-ha
    • Castle (featured building)
    • Description: Thirlestane Castle is a complex, visually striking domestic castle exhibiting three principal phases of building work executed from the 16th to the 19th century.
    • Earliest Date:
    • Latest Date:
    Key Information





    Principal Building

    Domestic / Residential





    Open to the public


    Electoral Ward

    Galawater and Lauderdale




    • Historic Scotland