This coastal area has a long settlement history attested to by numerous cropmarks in the north of the Cambo policies; these include an unenclosed prehistoric settlement, ring ditches, field boundaries and cultivation remains (NO 601 118-N0 603 117).
William the Lion (1143-1214) gave a charter of lands in the south-east of Cambo parish to Robert de Newenham, a Northumberland baron. Thereafter, his family adopted the name 'de Cambhou', to be distinguished from the Northumberland branch of the family. Sir John de Cambhou, a Lieutenant of Fife in 1302, was probably the first to take up residence permanently at Cambo, an important source of his income being his lease on the harbour dues of vessels at Crail. However, Sir John was hanged at Newcastle in 1306, following the Battle of Methven. By 1374 the property had passed to the Lindsays and was then purchased in 1668 by Sir Charles Erskine, 1st Bt. of Cambo (d.1677), Lord Lyon King at Arms and brother of the 3rd Earl of Kellie (q.v. Inventory, Volume 4, p.394).
Anna Erskine, daughter of Alexander, 3rd Earl of Kellie, married her cousin, Alexander Erskine, 2nd Bt of Cambo (1663-1727). Land at Kingsbarns, added to the Cambo estate, was gifted in 1660 to her father by Charles II, in recognition 'of service done to our Royall Father of blessed memorie and to our selfe'. The mid-late 18th century was a period when the title passed through the family in rapid succession. The Erskine's three sons, all unmarried, inherited in turn - Charles 3rd Bt of Cambo in 1727, John 4th Bt in 1753 and William 5th Bt. in 1754. The fourth son, David (d.1769) had two sons who became Earls of Kellie. As a result of the 5th Earl's support of Charles Stuart, the Erskine lands were forfeited. Few records of this period survive. The rapid succession may explain the lack of landscaping activity until the major works of the late 18th/early 19th century period.
Thomas Erskine (1745-1828) 9th Earl of Kellie regained the estate in the 1790's. 'An able energetic and enterprising man', he had built a successful and wealthy business in Sweden, rose to prominence in Sweden and became Captain of the Baltic ports (www.camboestate.com). On his return he was active in the local community and, for a time, was proprietor of the St Andrews Links. He invested in his estate, establishing a series of model farms with picturesque farmhouses, steadings, and extensive land drainage and improvement. In 1795, he commissioned Robert Balfour the 'Edinburgh' architect, to remodel, repair and extend Cambo House. Water was piped to the house and 'a vane or weathercock shall be put on the West front as per the drawing'' (Erskine of Cambo MSS, MS dep 97 Bdl.45). Illustrations of the house show it incorporated an earlier tower house, its main façade oriented south and situated on the site of the present house (Private collection). An octagonal gothic doocot and classical Dairy were built as eyecatchers to be seen westwards, across the lawns from the house.
Although married, the 9th Earl had no heirs. He and his wife adopted the children of his natural daughter, Anna Englehart. Thus in 1821, through her, David Englehart became the first baronet of Cambo. That same year David took the name Erskine, married an heiress and brought further capital into the property from his Swedish businesses. He carried on the 9th Earl's work in laying out Cambo as a model agricultural estate, with 'neat-sheds' for sheltering cattle in inclement weather, as described in Smith's 1834 account. It also details the 'natural garden, that is, the surface of the ground in its natural form, with a small brook running through the centre, over which are several neat cast-iron bridges' and the range of fruits grown in the kitchen-garden (Smith 1834, p.526-7). By the late 18th-early 19th century, there were ornamental estate buildings and farms (notably Cambo Farm and East Newhall), pleasure walks and gardens, the fertile farmlands regularly disposed and enclosed variously by drystone dykes and shelter belts (Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler 1828; Latto 1831). The principal, serpentine, drive to the house was constructed parallel to the Cambo Burn and enclosed within a shelter belt. The burn, its banks formed by drystone walling, was exploited as a woodland walk, with occasional cascades, natural rock outcrops, and a series of footbridges. Contemporary photographs and watercolours show the later 19th century house, with a first floor conservatory on its south front (as at Craigtoun House).
In 1878 Cambo House burnt down and Sir Thomas Erskine commissioned Wardrop and Reid to design the existing house on the same site (Gifford 1992, p.119).
Since the 1980s the ornamental garden planting has been extended and planting in the walled garden has been enhanced and augmented. An outstanding collection of Galanthus spp. (snowdrops) and other spring-flowering bulbs has been collected in the woodland garden and borders around the house. A significant contribution to the designed landscape has been the creation of Kingsbarns Golf Course, in the policies to the north of the house, in 2000. This links course, designed by Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen, has been sensitively detailed so as to reflect the coastal topography of sand-dunes, wet-flushes and coastal grasslands. In creating it, a pre-existing (18th century?) conduit and single-arched stone carriage bridge were uncovered and incorporated as features into the course.