Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
NO 47939 4393
347939, 704393

The spectacular formal gardens and designed landscape of Balcarres, comprising parkland, policies, and category A listed house, have played a formative role in the landscape development of Colinsburgh and make skilful use of the surrounding topography. It was a mid 18th century formal landscape made 'informal' in character by early 19th century work. The terraced gardens were designed by the architect David Bryce (1803-76).

Type of Site

A mid 18th century formal landscape made 'informal' in character by early 19th century work. The terraced gardens were constructed by Robert Adamson, builder, to designs by the architect David Bryce (1803-76).

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Pre-18th century designed landscape (?); early-mid 18th century; mid-late 19th century

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The complex of terraced gardens and parkland landscape at Balcarres were noted in the early 20th century as exemplars of good design. Balcarres retains the majority of its landscape structure and can be considered of outstanding value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

Balcarres, long associated with the Lindsay family, demonstrates a long cycle of landscape development. Its terraced gardens are an outstanding example of the work of David Bryce and Robert Adamson.


Level of interest

The early plantings, together with the variety of plants in the gardens today, give Balcarres high Horticultural value.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the integral setting for several architectural features of outstanding interest. The disposition of the buildings, e.g. Chapel and Doocot, illustrate that the formal landscape composition was fundamental to architectural concepts executed at Balcarres.


Level of interest

Human activity within the Balcarres policies has been found consisting of a stone axe, hut circles and cists, all in the vicinity of Balcarres Craig. The site thereby has some Archaeological value.


Level of interest

The parklands, woodlands, policy plantings and Craig Tower provide an outstanding contribution to the surrounding landscape.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The ancient and semi-natural woodlands in the Balcarres policies have high Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Balcarres is situated in the East Neuk of Fife, some 5km (3 miles) north of Elie and 4km (2.5 miles) inland from the Forth shore. It is one of a series of designed landscapes set out on the Methil-Elie coastal terrace, cut by a series of lowland dens. The east and north sides of the Balcarres landscape are bounded by the steep-sided, wooded Den Burn. The B942 Colinsburgh road runs along the southern boundary of the site, immediately to the south of Balcarres. Shelterbelts and minor roads form the western boundary, lying contiguous to the Charleton House policies. The designed landscape is highly visible from the surrounding roads, creating a distinctive local landscape character. The folly tower on Balcarres Craig is a landmark.

The underlying rocks are Carboniferous. Balcarres Craig is a dominant feature in the landscape, a 'lofty precipitous rock' (Maxwell 1911, pp.151), rising to 90m (300') from the surrounding plain. Extensive views are obtained from the top of the Craig to north, west and south. From Balcarres House itself there are panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and southwards across the Firth of Forth. The Lothians, the Bass Rock, the Lammermuir Hills and the Edinburgh hills form this southern panorama. Balcarres commands 'the enjoyment of pure and fresh air, of proximity to the sea, and a prospect embracing rock and meadow, island and lake, river and ocean, well-nigh boundless…' (Lindsay 1840, p.130 ).

Roy's Survey (1747–55) indicates a designed landscape structured around a formal avenue, aligned north-south and focussing on the house. Another, longer avenue oriented north-west / south-east lay further east. Despite the later enlargement of the designed landscape, the basic grid structure existing by the 18th century, dictated later landscape changes. The boundary of the easternmost enclosure, to the north of Balcarres Mill, was curved in form, extant to the current day in the form of the Pitcorthie boundary at 'Grassy Strip.'

During the early 19th century the landscape was made informal in character, with many parkland trees planted to the north and south of the house. The 18th century formal avenue and main drive, focussing on the house, were removed. A walled garden was built to the north-west of the house and an area of parkland was laid out to its south-west (1853, OS 6"). By c.1900 the parkland had been extended further southwards to meet a new entrance at South Lodge on the Colinsburgh Road (1893, OS 6"). By the mid 19th century the parkland at Pitcorthie had been planted with perimeter belts with serpentine lines, closely planted clumps and roundels, much in the style of Lahill. Today the designed landscape extends to 323ha (799 acres).

Site History

In 1586 John Lindsay, Lord Menmuir (1552-98), purchased Balcarres, Balneill, Pitcorthie and other lands in Fife. These lands were united into a free barony in 1592 and in 1595 Lindsay built a house at Balcarres, which he made his principal residence. This comprised a south addition to a pre-existing house, built in 1511 by Sir John Stirling of Keir (Gifford 1992, p.80). John, the second son of the 9th Earl of Crawford, was educated on the continent along with his elder brother David, later Lord Edzell. A successful lawyer with financial aptitude, John came to exert considerable political influence, becoming a member of the privy council in 1589, a manager of the Queen's revenue in 1591 and, due to his skills in discovering precious metals, he was appointed by James VI as master of minerals for life. This enabled him to prospect for gold on Crawford Muir, a venture which failed. Both he and David were keen agricultural improvers exchanging elm seed, hollies and in one documented instance, a thousand birches for planting on their lands.

Lindsay's second son David (d.1641) was created 1st Lord Balcarres in 1633. With a great interest in alchemy and the sciences, he corresponded with Drummond of Hawthornden (q.v. Inventory: Supplementary Volume Lothians, p.106-13) and formed the basis of a considerable library. This included collections of state papers and other documents, presented in 1712 to the Advocates' Library by Colin, 3rd Earl of Balcarres. Lord Balcarres was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander, (1618-59) created 1st Earl of Balcarres and hereditary governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1651. A supporter of King Charles, he sold his silver plate and mortgaged his estates for £6,000 to raise money for his cause. After the King's defeat at Worcester he settled with his family in St Andrews. Following the Glencairn rising he left for France and, while in exile, the Balcarres estate was sequestered. He died in Breda in 1659, and was buried at Balcarres in 1668.

Charles Lindsay, 2nd Earl of Balcarres, died in exile, aged twelve and was succeeded, in 1662, by his brother, aged ten, Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres (1652-1722). A supporter of James VII, he was seized and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle; following his release he settled in 1693 in Utrecht, returning impoverished to Scotland in 1700. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1705. Following the 1715 rising he was banished to Balcarres where he founded Colinsburgh, in the south of his estate, supposedly to resettle soldiers from his regiment. The regular shelterbelts structuring the landscape may have been set out at this time.

James Lindsay, 5th Earl of Balcarres (d.1768) succeeded in 1736. Following an active military career in America and in Marlborough's campaigns including Dettingen, he retired to Balcarres, where he undertook agricultural improvements. Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres (1752-1825) also had a military career. Becoming a peer in 1784, he was a major supporter of the bill for the restoration of the forfeited estates. He sold Balcarres, in 1791, to Robert Lindsay (d.1836), his younger brother who had made a fortune in the West Indies. Robert enlarged the existing house 'with a stolid Georgian extension with a broad bow on the south front' (Gifford 1992, p.80), built the Gothic folly on Balcarres Craig, 1813, and made the designed landscape informal in character. Thereafter, in 1839-43, General James Lindsay (d.1855) commissioned William Burn to enlarge Balcarres. An account of the gardens in 1834, mentions the newly laid-out flower garden:

'a piece of splendid workmanship, independently of the plants with which it is adorned. Its upper half is in grass, with neatly cut figures, with some large Irish yews judiciously disposed over the surface. The figures in the other half are formed with box, and the spaces are gravelled…There are interspersed over the garden low seats of China ware, chiefly blue, but of various shades and forms, which add greatly to the beauty of the scene. On the north is situated a new substantially built green-house, containing many precious gems, with a small piece of rockwork planted with the finer sort of rock plants…' (Smith 1834, pp.530-1).

James' son, Sir Coutts, commissioned further additions by David Bryce 1863-7. Bryce collaborated in the design of the garden terraces with the builder Robert Adamson, who also rebuilt some of the garden walls at Balcaskie in 1836-7 (Gifford 1992, p.86; q.v. Inventory, Volume 4, pp.354-9). Sir Coutts Lindsay seems to have been responsible for the layout of the Lower Terrace, with the architect Jesse Hall, which consisted of four parterres, three of them from designs in Les Jardins du Roi de Pologne.

In 1886, the 4,672 acre estate was sold to Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th of Balcarres, thus returning to the senior branch of the family. The parkland was extended and Sir Robert Lorimer was commissioned to design the North Lodge and estate office. Since 1900 the main change in the parkland layout has been the closure of the south drive, replaced by a new north drive. The south-facing terraced gardens have been described as 'second only in Scotland to those of Drummond Castle. Their character is truly magnificent, and they make, with double and single descents, a noble approach to the quaint and beautiful box garden and the splendid circle and enclosing hedged rectangle.' (Country Life 1902, p.184). Following a fire which destroyed some of Pitcorthie House, a new holiday home integrating its remains into the new structure was built by Lord Balneil, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres heir. It is set in the mature parkland at Pitcorthie. (Gifford 1992, p.342). A standing stone with cup-markings and other motifs, stands in a field to the east of the Pitcorthie park, outside the Inventory designed landscape.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The earliest part of Balcarres House is a section of the west wall, dating to Stirling's early 16th century house. This was extended in 1595 by an addition to the south and a rectangular stair-tower to the east. William Burn made major extensions to the house, on the south-west side, in 1838-43 in the Scots Jacobean style. The north-east section, incorporating two storeys with an attic floor, was added by David Bryce in 1863-7 and heightened the family wing of 1838-43. An east wing to the house, consisting of a 4-storey L-plan block started in the 1690s, was not completed and now survives as a Dower House, a detached building. Bryce designed the courtyard screen walls with 17th century style, Italian entrance gates.

The Chapel, in the east garden, was built for David, 1st Lord Balcarres in 1635. A square Doocot, to the west of the house, was built by William Wilkie. Craig Tower, a gothic folly on top of Balcarres Craig was built by James Fisher in 1813. It is a round, four-storey, castellated, whinstone tower with a Gothic window and crosslet loophole in its west façade. The Terraced Gardens have buttressed retaining walls and are decorated variously with a German Fountain of c1550, a Japanese Fountain and a large, faceted 17th century sundial, brought from Leuchars Castle in 1873 and erected on a new base designed by Lorimer 1896-7. Pitcorthie House, built in 1967 and designed by Trevor Dannatt has stone walls and shallow metal roofs. On its south a fully glazed projecting gallery links the main rooms.

The East Lodge, near the house, with semi-octagonal ends and a rustic porch, is probably by Wilkie in 1794. The West Lodge, in similar style, dates to 1904. The South Lodge was probably designed by J. Caslake of London in 1870, with gate piers by Jesse Hall. The Gates, of fine wrought-iron were called 'The Golden Gates', date to c 1700 and are from Cremona.

The North Lodge and Gates, on the B491, were designed by Lorimer in 1896-8, and have heavy rusticated gate-piers topped by lions rampant with gates decorated with the Crawford arms. The Estate Office, 1903, is also by Lorimer.

Drives & Approaches

The West Drive now forms the main approach to Balcarres House. It curves through parkland to lead to the north front of the house. Laid out by 1853 (1st ed. OS), although not furnished with the West Lodge until c 1900, this complemented the South Drive. The latter leads in, off the (B942) Colinsburgh Road, and through the South Lodge, to continue northwards through parkland.

Both of these 19th century drives supplanted the long, straight, 18th century parallel drives leading from the south. The easternmost led into the policies along Double Dyke Strip, from an entrance to the east of the South Lodge, and west of Balcarres Mill Bridge. This drive led through the East Lodge, before arriving at the house. The westernmost led in from Colinsburgh across enclosure fields, to pass the Doocot.


Balcarres House stands on high ground above a gentle south facing slope on which the south parks and main drives to Colinsburgh are laid out. An early 20th century account states that 'it would be hard to find a more glorious bit of park scenery ... wych elm and sycamore of great size abound .... also much fine ash timber and well grown modern conifers, not scattered as specimens, but crowded as they should be in close forest'. (Maxwell 1911, pp.151-5). The same species-mix survives in the park, with the addition of beech, plane. The majority of existing parkland trees date to Sir Coutts Lindsay's mid-19th century work, with some earlier oaks surviving.


The firs and hollies in the vicinity of the house may date to Lord Menmuir's 17th century plantings (Country Life 1902, p.183). The shelterbelts are a prominent feature of the designed landscape.

Landscaping of Balcarres Craig consists of ornamental plantings within Ancient Woodland, particularly along the walks leading up to Craig Tower. Species include Rhododendrons and Eucryphias. Balcarres Den and Balneil Den consist of mixed broadleaf woodland, predominantly beech and birch, classified as semi-natural and ancient woodland.

The Gardens

The terraced gardens lie south of the house. A mid-19th century plan shows the gardens with an intricate layout of serpentine paths and shrubbery, that may pre-date the setting out of the Upper Terrace, but there is no evidence that this layout was ever executed.

The Upper Terrace, with a balustraded retaining wall was created in 1841. A tall yew hedge runs north to south dividing the east court from the west. The sundial stands in the West Court. This narrow court lies before the library and drawing room, with a small summerhouse at the south-west angle of the terrace walls. A gate leads from here, through to the main entrance courtyard at the north. The East Court is broader and is situated in front of the family wing. At its centre is the German Fountain, placed here in 1873. From the Upper Terrace there are fine views of the Lower Terrace parterre below, beyond which are panoramic views south to the Firth of Forth. The balustrade of the East Court opens at its south-west corner, onto a broad imperial stair leading to the Lower Terrace. There is an arched alcove under the double staircase and, below the West Court, an arbour containing stone seats.

The broad, Lower Terrace is enclosed, on its south side, by a high, clipped, buttressed yew hedge. To its north it is bounded by the retaining wall of the Upper Terrace. Against the retaining wall are buttresses of yew dividing the border and the base of the terrace wall (Jekyll & Hussey 1918, fig.6). These high yew 'buttresses' divide compartments of mixed roses, fuchsias and climbers. South of the buttressed wall the northernmost parterre, part of the 1860s scheme, survives, set out around a central tree-mound. The tree-mound predates the terraces. An east-west walk separates the parterre from a lawn, forming the major part of the Lower Terrace. During the 1860s this area was originally laid out with three rectangular parterres, the easternmost being a box parterre (Country Life 1902, p.182). This broad, flat pattern of knots, where the 'shapes are clearly defined, parts of the design are kept flat and there is a large proportion of plain surfaces' (Jekyll & Hussey 1918, p.179) was considered a good example of parterre design. Immediately to its west and directly south of the imperial stair, stands the Japanese fountain, encircled by clipped hedges and tall, conical yews. It originally stood at the central point of the three parterres. While its complex box-edged parterre has been replaced with lawn, the clipped conical yews, marking the corners of the formal layouts, have been retained.

East of the terraced gardens is the former croquet lawn, enclosed by high clipped hedges (Country Life 1902, p.183 'East Croquet Lawn') now used as a flower garden with some vegetables and fruit. It has been planted in the Arts and Crafts style with beds laid out in apricot, white, blue/pink and yellow to Lady Crawford's design. To its south a wild garden leads to the tennis court. Further east lies the 17th century Chapel, with old yew trees and 19th century conifers, including a Wellingtonia.

Walled Gardens

The extensive walled garden was divided into several compartments (1853, lst edition OS). It was 'newly laid out' in 1834, with a kitchen garden, fruit garden and a broad centre grass walk lined with 'georginas' and heartsease:

'The flower garden is a piece of splendid workmanship, independently of the plants with which it is adorned. The upper half is grass, with neatly cut figures, with some large Irish yews judiciously disposed over the surface. The figures in the other half are formed with box, and the spaces are gravelled. The proprietors, and more especially the lady, are most zealous promoters of horticulture and floriculture; consequently every plant that is new or rare soon finds its way hither. There are interspersed over the garden low seats of China ware, chiefly blue, but of various shades and forms, which add greatly to the beauty of the scene. On the north is situated a new substantially built green-house, containing many precious gems, with a small piece of rockwork planted with the finer sorts of rock plants' (Smith 1834, p.531).

The garden is now grassed, with some espalier fruit trees against some of the walls. Most vegetables and fruit are grown in the kitchen garden near the house.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1747–55 General Roy's Military Survey, 1747–55

1853 survey, 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1855

1893 survey, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25"), published 1894


Printed Sources

Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers The Lists of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest

'A Versatile Holiday House in Fife', Country Life, (30 May, 1968), pp.1461-2

'Balcarres, Fifeshire, The Seat of the Earl of Crawford', Country Life, vol. 12 (9 August, 1902), pp.176-84

Gifford, J. Buildings of Scotland: Fife (1992)

Jekyll, G. and Hussey, C. Garden Ornament (1918)

Lindsay, A.W.C. Lives of the Lindsays: or a Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres (1840)

Maxwell, H. Scottish Gardens (1911)

New Statistical Account, Statistical Account of the Parish of Kilconquhar, vol. 9 (1837), pp.315-36

Old Statistical Account, Statistical Account of the Parish of Kilconquhar, vol. 9 (1791-3), pp.287-302

Scottish Natural Heritage, Fife landscape character assessment (1999)

Smith, W. 'Observations made during a Horticultural Tour through the Eastern Part of the County of Fife' Gardener's Magazine, vol. 10 (November 1834)

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important gardens and designed landscapes. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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Printed: 13/07/2024 20:17