Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Scottish Borders
NT 58954 33393
358954, 633393

Garden elements from different epochs of Bemersyde's long history coexist within this scenically prominent designed landscape. The house itself is of particular merit, with its 16th century tower and well-documented architectural history. The ancient woodlands along the bank of the River Tweed form a vitally important refuge for a diverse range of rare plant and beetle species.

Type of Site

Long-established house and grounds featuring ancient woodlands and a heritage tree. The garden grounds are notable for Field Marshal Haig's sunken garden of the 1920s. Other late 19th and 20th century features include a partially surviving walled garden with glass-house and a maturing woodland garden to the south-east of the gardens.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Intermittent development during the 16th to 19th centuries, 1920s, 1950s-70s

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The artistic value and antiquarian interest of the house and veteran tree aroused the attention of Walter Scott and the artist J. M. W. Turner in the early 19th century.


Level of interest

The long and incredibly well-documented family history of the Haigs at Bemersyde is of outstanding historical importance. The association with Field Marshal Haig is also of interest, and the survival of his sunken garden, along with his handwritten notes and plans, is of particular value.


Level of interest

The veteran sweet chestnut is an impressive heritage tree, while the well-developed woodland structure of the ancient riverbank woods at Tweedwood-Gateheugh presents significant arboricultural interest. The collection of specimen trees in the arboretum is also of some merit in this category.


Level of interest

The simple gardens and mature woods provide a complementary setting for Bemersyde House; a category-A listed, late-medieval tower house with a complicated architectural history.


Level of interest

The surviving fabric of the tower house contains significant physical evidence for building techniques and chronology, and incorporates moulded stones from Dryburgh Abbey. Much of the archaeological value of the wider landscape resides in the potential for future survey or investigation to reveal further information about its character and layout over time.


Level of interest

The woodland canopy and surrounding meadows enrich views across the green, rolling landform and are visible from the famous, viewing point of 'Scott's View' on the nearby Bemersyde Hill.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

Recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on account of their biological interest, the long-established woodlands by the Tweed contains diverse plant communities, including many rare species. The continuous presence of overmature and dead timber, meanwhile, provides excellent habitat value for many beetle species, many of which are under threat or otherwise virtually unknown in Scotland.

Location and Setting

Bemersyde is located above the River Tweed just over a mile (2km) upstream from Newtown St Boswells. Topographically, the region is characterised by the strongly meandering course of the river, moderately rolling landform and prominent conical and dome-shaped hills. The celebrated viewing point known as 'Scott's View', which takes in the distinctive peaks of the Eildons, is located just north of the designed landscape, while the scenic qualities of the region as a whole have been recognised through the designation of the Eildon and Leaderfoot National Scenic Area. Bemersyde occupies a relatively prominent site at 160m above sea-level, and the canopy of the woods and top of the tower can be seen from Scott's View. Similarly, from the upper storeys of Bemersyde House, views extend across Lauderdale, the Tweed Valley and as far south as the more distant Cheviot Hills. At ground level, shelterbelts enclose most of the park and garden areas, and protect them from prevailing south-westerly winds. To the north and west, the ground slopes down towards the river bank where the strip of surviving ancient woodland has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Encompassing 55ha (136ac), Bemersyde is one of the smallest designed landscapes in the Scottish Borders. It is bounded by the river bank to the north and west, shelterbelts and the minor B6356 road to the east, and a field boundary to the south.

Site History

Bemersyde is famous for its long association with the Haig family who can trace their ancestors back some eight and a half centuries on this land. Petrus de Haga of probable Norman descent is named in 1162 as the proprietor of the lands and barony of 'Bemersyd'. From this point onwards, succession followed a direct genealogical descent, apparently following the popular tradition of Thomas Rhymer's medieval prophesy, 'Tyde what may whate'er betyde, Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde'.

There are few obvious signs of the medieval landscape of Bemersyde, except for the swathe of ancient woodland by the river bank and the enormous sweet chestnut that remains standing in front of the house. After more than half a millennium of life, the tree continues to grow new stems owing to the 2nd Earl's efforts to transplant new layers from the dying timber in the mid-20th century. Bemersyde House itself exhibits fabric from the 16th century onwards, with a central tower providing shelter and refuge for generations of Haigs during this turbulent era.

Although it is likely that the medieval and late medieval grounds contained some form of garden space, the earliest features of the present designed landscape post-date this period. Following a spell in prison for his Quaker sympathies in the 1660s, Anthony Haig (1654-1712) is known to have devoted himself to frugal living, and to the betterment of the property (Russell 1881: 298). While his planted orchards have since disappeared, an inscribed sundial that ornamented his garden still stands in the lawns to the south of Bemersyde House. Over the course of the 18th and earlier 19th century, greater numbers of trees were planted and wings were added to the older tower to create a larger and more comfortable living space. The renowned writer Sir Walter Scott took an interest in Bemersyde, with its long history and impressive 'Trysting' tree, while the picturesque scene was sketched and embellished by J. M. W. Turner in 1831.

Historic maps and undulations in the grounds to the south of the house reveal a square garden area that was originally a fairly busy space, adorned with parterres lined by yews and hollies in the mid to later 19th century, (possibly planted by James Haig (1790-1840

. A crisis of succession that jeopardised the old medieval prophesy was resolved in the late 19th century, and the property passed to a relation, Colonel Arthur Balfour Haig, who retained his preferred, Victorian scheme of small flower beds and holly bushes (2nd Earl Haig, pers.correspondence 2008).

Douglas, Field Marshall Haig (1861-1928), the prominent military figure and senior commander during World War I had fond childhood memories of Bemersyde. Following the sale of the property after the war, the estate was gifted to him by public subscription in 1921. In the years before his death, Haig laid the foundations of the more simple garden space of the present designed landscape. He removed flower beds and shrubs, thus creating more lawns. Inspired by a postcard of the King Henry VIII knot garden at Hampton Court he designed a small sunken garden, which remains a feature today.

During World War II, Bemersyde was occupied by the Edinburgh Asylum for the Blind and used as a billet for the Women's Land Army. The late owner, Field Marshall Haig's son, 2nd Earl and artist, returned to live at Bemersyde in the late 1940s. He opened the grounds up to the visiting public and continued to maintain the designed landscape. While some elements have been curtailed or reduced due to their diminished economic viability (the walled garden and early 20th century herbaceous borders), other projects are now coming to fruition. The maintained and replanted woodlands form an attractive scenic element in the local landscape, while paths lead through a maturing arboretum. The latest addition is a colourful herbaceous border by the east wing, which complements the other older, surviving remnants of the Bemersyde gardens.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Bemersyde House consists of a central late-medieval tower flanked by lower east and west wings. It has a long and complicated architectural history, with numerous episodes of rebuilding and enlargement. The sandstone rubble tower, with 4 storeys plus attic and a parapet walk on its north and south walls, was partly rebuilt in the later 16th century and is said to incorporate moulded stones from the nearby Dryburgh Abbey. The wings were erected in the second half of the 18th century. The west wing was remodelled and heightened in the 1860s, only to be restored to its original height in 1959-61. Adjacent mid-19th-century stables comprise a single-storey south range with central pediment, and opposite, a similar north range, heightened c.1920s. A decorative brick wall with pale sandstone coping, screens the stables from the gardens to the south. An octagonal-plan sundial, inscribed 'Bemersyde 1691' and mounted on a substantial stepped pedestal base and baluster, forms an impressive centrepiece. A restored summerhouse to the east of the lawn and garden area houses information panels for visitors.

Drives & Approaches

The main access route to the house and gardens leads westward from the hamlet of Bemersyde. From a lodge, the short drive ascends through mixed deciduous woodland, with a subsidiary drive forking off towards the kitchen garden area north of the house. To the north west, a riverside path originating from the old fording point of Monksford connects with a longer track that curves and ascends towards Bemersyde through a strip of woodland.


The grass meadows of Bemersyde extend downslope from the house and core woodlands towards the Tweed. Grazed by livestock, they are partly enclosed by mixed deciduous shelterbelts and the woodland strip that lines the track to the riverbank. Early Ordnance Survey editions depict them as mostly devoid of trees, a characteristic that endures in the present landscape. Exceptions include the few remaining horse-chestnuts in the undulating park to the west of the house, and a ring of lime trees planted c.1830 on the slope to the north of the house.


Although not extensive in terms of area, the mature Bemersyde woodlands are prominent in local landscape views. Structurally, they comprise long-established policy plantations around the core of the designed landscape, a woodland strip that flanks the track down to the river bank, and a swathe of ancient woodland along the bank of the River Tweed. Here, the range and diversity of woodland flora and fauna together with supporting documentary and cartographic evidence from the 1700s, indicates the longevity of deciduous woodland, the importance of which is recognised through its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In the spring, a profusion of wild flowers grows beneath the canopy of oak, yew and other broadleaf trees. Closer to the house, the mixed woodlands retain a structure established during the 18th and 19th century and maintained through subsequent replanting projects. Occasional veteran broadleaves stand among the younger spruce, beech and elm, while a path along the southern edge of the designed landscape leads through an attractive beech avenue, devised by the Field Marshall Earl Haig in the early 20th century.

Woodland Garden

At the bottom of the gardens, to the south and south east of the summerhouse, a range of trees bear witness to an arboretum created in the 1950s to 1970s, partly with specimens gifted from the Royal Botanical Gardens and partly through supplementary additions made in the late 20th century. Specimens present include red oaks, a Wellingtonia and Monkey Puzzle, and a small collection of maples and Sorbus. An understorey of Rhododendron and Azalea bushes, together with many naturalised daffodils, adds colour and texture to this woodland garden space.

The Gardens

The garden grounds extend from the south front of Bemersyde house and comprise an approximately rectangular-shaped area of lawn bordered by woodland. The present scheme is a relatively simple one, in which garden elements of different eras co-exist. Close to the gravel forecourt of the house, the gnarled, veteran sweet chestnut is by far the most ancient feature. Current estimates place it between 500 and 800 years old, with popular tradition claiming this 'Covin' or 'Trysting' tree to have been planted by family founder, Petrus de Haga himself in the late 12th century ( Although the original trunk is now dead, layers taken by the 2nd Earl in the 1950s have resulted in healthy stems shooting up from the base. The inscribed sundial, fixed on its substantial pedestal on the main lawn terrace is a feature of the late 17th to 18th century gardens, while the large yews in the centre of the garden bear witness to an ornate, 19th century arrangement of tree-lined parterres. The structure of this former, more complex garden space can be traced via historic maps and aerial photographs that show up faint undulations in the lawn, and thus reveal an approximately square garden, divided into quadrants by axial paths.

Today, within this largely grassed-over space, the most colourful features are those devised during the 20th century. Surrounded by a low, retaining stone wall, the sunken garden in the south-eastern sector was a creation of the Field Marshal Earl Haig in the years following the First World War, and his surviving plans and notes on its design are of particular historic value. Although the 2nd Earl later simplified the arrangement through the removal of some flower beds, the symmetrical form of this small, partly-paved garden remains essentially unchanged. At the centre, crazy-paving paths intersect at a small, circular pond. The lawn quadrants extend outwards and up two steps to where mostly low-growing alpine plants grow along the wall. Close by, an avenue of brick pillars anchor wooden trellising on which roses and other climbers grow. A more recent feature is the luxuriant bed that extends along the brick wall to the east of the east wing. The late 2nd Earl's widow is a knowledgeable gardener, and has created a flourishing show of colour and foliage in this part of the Bemersyde garden.

Walled Gardens

The kitchen garden to the north-west of the house is now only partly cultivated. It was built and developed during the second half of the 19th century and originally featured intersecting axial paths within a regular, six-sided walled enclosure (1896-8, OS 25”). The area under cultivation was reduced by about a half during the mid 20th century, although the potting range and grassed-over mounds of former vegetable beds remain. A late-20th-century tennis court occupies the former south west quadrant of the garden. Now, the chief surviving elements of the Victorian enclosure include the northern brick wall, which divides the garden from the sloping field to the north, some wall-trained fruit and free-standing apples, and a glasshouse range, now used for cultivating a profusion of flowers, tomatoes, peaches and figs. Within the sheltered area of the enclosure, low box hedging surrounds the remaining planted and well-maintained vegetable plots.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1654 Joan Blaeu, Tvedia cum vicecomitatu Etterico Forestae etiam Selkirkae dictus, [vulgo], Twee-dail with the Sherifdome of Etterik-Forest called also Selkirk / auct. Timotheo Pont

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey

1771 Andrew Armstrong and Mostyn Armstrong, 'Map of the County of Berwick'

1776 George Taylor and Andrew Skinner, 'A.Taylor and A.Skinner's Survey and Map of the Roads of North Britain or Scotland 1776'

1797 John Blackadder, 'Berwickshire'

1821 John Thomson, 'Berwick-Shire'

1826 Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler, 'The County of Berwick'

1843 William Crawford and William Brooke, 'Map embracing extensive portions of the Counties of Roxburgh, Berwick, Selkirk & Midlothian and Part of Northumberland. Minutely and accurately surveyed by… Crawford and Brooke'

1855-7 survey Berwickshire, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1862

1896-8 survey Berwickshire, 2nd edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1909

RCAHMS: National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) and photographic and manuscript collections


Printed Sources

Alison, J 1924, Bemersyde, Hawick

ASH Consulting Group 1998, The Borders landscape assessment, Edinburgh: Scottish Natural Heritage

Cruft, K; Dunbar, J and Fawcett, R 2006, Borders, London and New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press

Foreman, S 1959, 'Bemersyde', The Scottish Field, July, 39-41

Haig, G A E D 2000, 'My Father's Son: The memoirs of Major the Earl Haig', London, Leo Cooper

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

Land Use Consultants 1987, Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage

Russell, J 1881, 'Haigs of Bemersyde. A family history' , Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons

Internet Sources

SiteLink: Scottish Natural Heritage, Sites designated for their natural heritage value, [accessed 18 June 2009]

'The Covin Tree, Bemersyde, Melrose', [accessed 19 February 2009]

Note of Abbreviations used in references

RCAHMS: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

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.

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Printed: 02/12/2022 10:27