Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
NO 37714 11943
337714, 711943

A beautiful designed landscape with formal gardens designed by Robert Lorimer in the early 20th century. The policy woodlands and upper slopes of the landscape make an impressive contribution to the surrounding scenery.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The layout of the designed landscape and the gardens at the Hill of Tarvit gives it outstanding value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

The Hill of Tarvit has early associations with Sir John Scot and represents several periods of development of a country estate. It is also a good example of early 20th century garden design and has high Historical value.


Level of interest

The specimen trees and remaining shrubs at the Hill of Tarvit provide some Horticultural value.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the setting for a collection of estate buildings and ornaments and for the mansion house, listed A, and therefore has outstanding Architectural value.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The policy woodlands and upper slopes of the Hill of Tarvit provide contrast with the surrounding scenery and give it high Scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The older woodlands at the Hill of Tarvit provide some Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Hill of Tarvit lies 1.5 miles (2.5km) south of the town of Cupar in North East Fife. The site is bordered by the A916 to the west and by minor and estate roads to the south and east. The Hill rises steeply behind the house to 211m north of the gardens. The mansion house was formerly known as Wemyss Hall and it is set above gently sloping parkland with fine views southwards across the valley of the Craigrothie Burn. From the top of the hill there are panoramic views and the interpretative display boards at the base of the old Cupar Market Cross direct the views to distant features. The policy walls and woodlands screen the designed landscape from view from the surrounding area but are themselves of scenic interest.

The house is set amid approximately 279 acres (113ha) of designed landscape, which extends northwards to the top of the Hill of Tarvit and which is enclosed by the roads to Cupar and Bridgend on the west and south sides. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps, which indicate that it has remained very similar in extent and structure since it was laid out in the early 19th century. The old Market Cross of Cupar was erected at the top of the Hill in 1817, where it forms a striking monument. There is an attractive doocot in the south-west of the park, which is now overgrown and hidden amongst woodland, but which at one time may have provided a significant feature in the view from the house.

Site History

The designed landscape was laid out in its present form in the late 18th/early 19th century; the designer is unknown. Sir Robert Lorimer designed the formal gardens to the south of the house in c.1907.

Hill of Tarvit was part of the Scotstarvit estate in the 16th century. In c.1627 Scotstarvit Tower was altered by Sir John Scot, Director of Chancellory. (This tower lies about 1km to the south-west of the mansion house on the west side of the A916 and outwith the designed landscape of Hill of Tarvit). Sir John was a geographer and writer, and he continued Timothy Pont's survey of Scotland and superintended the printing of the maps in Amsterdam. He also wrote 'The Staggering State of Scots Statesman from 1550- 1650'. After his death the lands of Scotstarvit remained in Sir John's family, but a new house was built in 1697, attributed to William Bruce. When the last of Sir John's descendants, Major General John Scot, died in 1776, the estate was acquired by the Wemyss family, who renamed the mansion house as Wemyss Hall.

The Wemyss family continued to live at Wemyss Hall until 1904, when the estate was purchased by Mr Frederick Bower Sharp. He commissioned Robert Lorimer to design the extensive alterations to the mansion house, which he renamed Hill of Tarvit. The house was enlarged to hold his collections of furniture, paintings, tapestries, porcelain and bronzes, and Lorimer was requested to enlarge the window spaces to let in more light. Lorimer also designed the terraced gardens to the south of the house.

The estate was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland in 1949 following the death of Mr Sharp's daughter, Miss E.C. Sharp. From 1951-1977 the house was leased to the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation as a convalescent home. The ground floor was opened to visitors on two afternoons a week during this period. Since 1977, the house has been opened to the public throughout the summer season.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Hill of Tarvit House is listed A; it is a 1696 house, possibly by Bruce, with Victorian service rear wings and with extensive alterations by Robert Lorimer in 1905-7. The south front has five bays flanked by projecting bowed wings, long sash windows and a sundial above the central window. The west front has an arcaded loggia forming the porch. The Terraced Garden and Walled Garden are included in the A listing; the fine wrought-iron gates in the north wall of the walled garden are by Thomas Haddon. The laundry, listed B, lies to the east of the house; it is early 20th century and all the interior equipment has been retained. The Doocot is early 19th century, circular, with a castellated parapet and it is listed B.

The Stables are late 18th/early 19th century, classical and are listed B. There are several estate cottages in the policies, including the single-storey stables lodge listed C(S). The old Cupar Market Cross was emplaced on the Hill of Tarvit in 1817. The wide terrace steps in the gardens are ornamented with stone lions, and there is an elaborate iron well- head on the upper terrace. There are several small pieces of ornamentation in the gardens, including the statue in the rose garden, the sundial and urns in the walled garden, and the seat made by Hew Lorimer in the terraced garden.


The parkland extends on all sides around the gardens. The parks were originally planted with thick, curving shelterbelts, many individual parkland trees and several roundels. These clumps and several of the individual park trees had been reduced in number by the time of the 2nd edition OS map in c.1900. In the early 20th century a golf course was laid out in the parks to the south of the house; this area has now been returned to grazing and is leased to a neighbouring farmer. The parkland is very important to the views from the house and replacement planting of individual parkland trees is to be encouraged. The western half of the parkland is currently cropped. There are two main access drives, from the west and from the south, and a new lime avenue was planted on the west drive in the 1970s.


The policy woodlands were planted for amenity and for shelter and they enclose the parklands. There are approximately 90 acres of mixed deciduous woodland with a few coniferous pockets. Their continued management for amenity will be important to the views from the house. The shelter woodland to the west of the walled garden was badly affected by the gales in 1953 and has been replanted with Thuja heterophylla. Consideration could be given to clearing a tract through the woodland clump in the south-west of the park to open up the view of the doocot.

The Gardens

The walled garden lies immediately to the north and west of the house; it is located on terraces on the south-facing slope of the hillside and has been laid out with lawns and gravel paths and planted up with herbaceous and shrub borders, including a shrub rose border and a heather border. The ornate wrought-iron gates in the north wall lead to a wide ride through the dense shelter planting, through which leads the path up to the top of the Hill of Tarvit.

Immediately to the north of the walled garden lies the shrubbery which was planted on either side of a path leading around the walled garden to the east of the house and along to the laundry building. Here Mr Hugh Sharp designed a small water garden, incorporating several cascades, to the north of the laundry. The whole of the shrubbery area had become very overgrown by the time of our visit but there are still some choice shrubs remaining within the overgrowth, including a fine Eucryphia glutinosa, a Parrotia and several Rhododendrons including R. yunnanense and R. vaseyi.

South of the house, Lorimer designed the layout of the terraced gardens; early photographs show the low terrace walls and neatly trimmed lawns surrounding the sunken rose garden. This rose garden remains in the north-west corner and is laid out with several rectangular rose beds amongst narrow paved paths around a central pond, now planted up as a flower bed. The most striking feature of the terraced gardens is the clipped hedges, which are thought not to have formed part of Lorimer's original design, but to have been added by Frederick Sharp. Clipped Irish yews stand like sentinels along either side of the wide staircase leading down from the hall to the lower terrace. This lower terrace is enclosed by high, clipped hedges forming a semi- circular enclosure above the ha-ha fence above the park. Huge yew buttresses line the north side of the lower terrace and the whole enclosed area is laid out with lawn, shortly to be made a croquet lawn. A tall archway in the hedge leads from the west side of the garden to the upper terrace. Beyond the area of formal garden enclosed by the hedges are planted a few taller, specimen trees on the south side of the west drive.

Walled Gardens

There is a large kitchen garden to the east of the stables. It is walled on three sides and still retains part of the old range of glasshouses along the north wall. It has been let out as a market garden in the past and recently has been let for growing nursery stock, although at the time of our visit it was disused. The curling pond was put in along the open south side of the kitchen garden; it is now overgrown but could form an attractive ornamental feature.




Printed Sources

G.A. Little, 1981

A Short Guide to the Hill of Tarvit. 1949


CL, Dec 28th 1912

Hill of Tarvit - 'Tour of the House'


NTS, Historical Background and Management Policy

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: 16/01/2021 00:22