Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
NS 97685 86594
297685, 686594

A compact, high-quality picturesque landscape, designed around an 1840s seaside castle-villa. Despite some deterioration, the design retains its intrinsic character, essential elements and layout. The designed landscape is one of a series of coastal estates along the Forth shore and is important in defining the character of the coastal hills between Kincardine and Culross.

Type of Site

An 1840s picturesque-style, seaside castle-villa.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 19th century

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

Despite 20th century deterioration in terms of its management and planting layout, the picturesque design and layout of Dunimarle Castle retains high value as a Work of Art and compares highly with others in similar sea-cliff settings.


Level of interest

The history of the site, its concept as a centre for the fine arts correlating to its picturesque architectural and landscape composition give Dunimarle high Historical value.


Level of interest

The Monkey puzzle and Wellingtonia avenue give this site some Horticultural value, in an area relatively scarce of tree-cover.


Level of interest

The picturesque qualities of Dunimarle Castle and its Category A listing combine to give this site outstanding Architectural value. It is an outstanding picturesque composition.


Level of interest

The remains of Dunimarle Castle and potential for below-ground archaeology give the site some Archaeological value.


Level of interest

Views of Dunimarle from the foreshore and in distant views from the Firth of Forth give the site high Scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

Tree cover below the castle is now fairly degraded, but the woodland dell and other small areas of woodland give the site a little Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Dunimarle Castle is situated north of the B9037 to the west of Culross, and south of the A985 Dunfermline-Kincardine road.

Dunimarle Castle occupies a spectacular setting in a highly elevated position overlooking the Firth of Forth. It is a 'most conspicuous object, when seen from the shores of the Forth' (Todd, 1873). The elaborate gothic ornamentation of the Castle and castellated garden walls were built to be appreciated from a distance and rely on an extensive landscape setting. Panoramic views of the Forth are gained from the East Terrace and from the Castle Terrace. Fine views of the Castle are gained from the foreshore. The contrived, long view from the North Avenue is aligned on the entrance gateway with views through to the Firth of Forth and beyond.

The landscape design aims at contrasting picturesque effects. This is provided by a formal, stately approach to the Castle from the landward side and, on the seaboard side, views of the Castle directly set against the Forth, with a wide panoramic backdrop of the Lothian coast.

The North Avenue and perimeter woodland belt enclosing the south side of the policies are depicted on an estate plan of 1839. The extent of the policies, recorded as being 56 acres (The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845; 1859-61, OS 6"), has changed little since.

Site History

While the earliest house, a medieval Castle belonging to the MacDuffs, Thanes of Fife, was built to take advantage of the defensive, coastal site, 'Castlehill,' a small 18th century mansion house, was built further east to exploit the site's picturesque qualities (Beveridge 1888, p.197-8). The Blaw family owned the estate from the 16th century until 1830, when it was sold to Lady Margaret Keith of Tulliallan (q.v. An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Volume 4, pp. 415-19). Shortly afterwards the small mansion was incorporated into a castellated villa (1839-45) for Mrs Magdalene Sharpe Erskine (1787-1872), sister and heir to Sir John Drummond Erskine of Torrie (1776-1836) a cadet branch of the Earls of Buchan. Her marriage to Admiral Kilpatrick Sharpe, when in her 50s, lasted three days after which a permanent separation was arranged. She turned her attentions to her estate, changing its name to Dunimarle, and transformed the property, commissioning the architects Robert and Richard Dickson, whose 'general concept' for their design derived 'from Nash's East Cowes Castle' (Gifford 1992, p.196-8). This composition relied on an asymmetrical and irregular outline to the Castle and careful consideration of its orientation in relation to its seaside, cliff-top setting. A three-storey wing with mullioned and transomed windows and crenellated parapet was added to the east. An orangery, a castellated gateway with monumental iron gates, a castellated garden gate, drum tower and screen wall, and an extensive raised terrace enclosed the forecourt. To the south a long terrace overlooking the Forth and backed by a crenellated garden wall extended the picturesque composition.

An account of the gardens in 1841, by the gardener Jasper Wallace, described old pear trees, claiming them to be 240 years old, and planted in 1600. He notes some of them with a girth of 6 feet. He described the planting of new trees and the need for soil improvement (The Gardener's Magazine 1841). A guidebook to Dunimarle and its collection passed through various editions (1873-84) and provides a good description of the gardens at this period. Of particular mention is the terrace ' a perfect paradise of beauty…beautiful flowers, the most lovely views of wood, mountain, and sea with all the accessories of artistic decoration, which the most refined taste could devise'. There were shrubberies, large fruit gardens and a spectacular Vinery. This contrasted with the Dell, a woodland garden with winding coastal walks, which led to the neighbouring Balgownie House policies.

Mrs Sharpe Erskine, who inherited a collection of pictures from her brother, was an avid fine and decorative arts collector. She endowed Dunimarle as a museum of art (c 1853) to display her collection of 850 works. These remained at the museum, which opened to the public in 1872, until the 1950s. In 1870 she commissioned the architect Robert Rowand Anderson to design St Serf's Chapel. Mrs Sharpe-Erskine died in 1872 and the estate was put into the hands of trustees. In 1872 a flash-flood swept across the site, toppling the lower terrace wall and walk (below the Castle). The walk was re-instated and the slopes modified. Mrs Sharpe Erskine's collection finally left Dunimarle Castle in 1995, when the National Galleries of Scotland transferred it to Duff House to form the basis of the collection there. The Castle and grounds are administered and managed by the Sharp Erskine Trust.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Dunimarle Castle, a picturesque castellated castle of 1840, incorporates an earlier small 18th-century house. On the north-east façade of the castle is the gothic chapel-like 4-bay apsed Orangery, converted to domestic use. Its wall is skilfully designed to conceal the gardener working inside! Ruins thought to relate to the medieval Dunimarle Castle survive, incorporated into a west wall with a ruinous vaulted tower, integrated with the 19th-century Dunimarle Castle. A vaulted structure in the north-west end of the castle garden is thought to be either the remains of an Ice-house or the ground floor of a Tower (Gifford 1992, p.197). Downhill from the Castle is St Serf's Chapel, designed by Rowand Anderson c 1872 and the interiors finished in 1876. Some details derive from Culross Abbey Church.

The North Lodge, built c 1840 at the end of the north avenue, has an infilled, round-arched pend. A Castellated Gothic Gateway, with massive iron gates, leads from the forecourt terrace to the North Avenue. Many of the ancillary buildings in the service yard to the north of the castle have been taken down. South-east and south-west of the house is the Bastion Garden and Castle Terrace, contemporary with the picturesque castle.

The south-west side of the Kitchen Garden has a Castellated Screen Wall with towers at regular intervals terminating in a larger round tower at its south-western end. These towers served as stokeholes for a heated fruit wall, and form part of a Terrace Walk, supported on a rubble retaining wall. At the beginning of the terrace walk, a Lean-to Glasshouse with lancet windows, is the only one to survive from a range. The foundations of others lie at the southern end of the walled garden.

The ruins of West Church, reached by a track along the north drive, are medieval but extensively rebuilt.

Drives & Approaches

Today, the main approach lies from the south along a steep drive, bordered by mixed deciduous planting, with a burn to the west. Limes (Tilia x europaea) give the drive an air of formality. The north drive, traditionally the major entrance, about three-quarters of a mile in length, provides the most dramatic approach to Dunimarle, with the Firth of Forth slowly coming into view. It is planted with a mix of monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) and Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Most of the trees in the northern section are dead and there are big gaps in the lower half. Contemporary sources indicate that this avenue was formally planted with a double row of Wellingtonias, alternating with Araucaria (Todd 1873). Views from the drive extend out to Culross Abbey and the ruins of St Mary's chapel.


The parkland lies on the landward side and consists of square parks disposed to east and west of the North Drive. There is a small area of parkland with specimen trees at the base of the escarpment, alongside St Serf's Chapel.


The majority of the woodland lies on the southern, seaboard, perimeter of the policies, planted to shelter the Castle, and consists of mixed deciduous trees including lime. There is also some woodland along the Dean Burn, to the east of the Walled Garden, and sheltering the garden from the south.

The Gardens

The gardens are confined to the Castle terraces and the Bastion Garden. The latter has a central, sunken Rose Garden. A major feature on the south front is the Castle Terrace, which leads to the Terrace Walk planted with Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'), along the south front of the Walled Garden. Steps lead down from the east end of the walk to lower ornamental walks, now planted with rhododendrons. An early 20th-century postcard shows evergreen shrub planting on the steeper part of these slopes, likely to be Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). Walks lead along the wooded slopes below the Bastion Garden and the Terrace Walk and eastwards along the Dean Burn. Paths to the east along the Dean Burn are now unmanaged and overgrown.

Walled Gardens

Orchards, probably those described in the 1841 account (Gardener's Magazine 1841) were sited to the south-east of the kitchen garden on the far side of the Dean Burn. These survived as orchards until the late 19th century (1896, OS 2").

The castellated screen wall of the Kitchen Garden lies perpendicular to the Castle Terrace. A holly (Ilex aquifolium) hedge forms other boundaries of the Kitchen Garden that is now down to grass. Only the bases and one chimney of the glasshouses remain.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1859-61 survey, 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1897

1913-14 survey, 2nd edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1921

1859 survey, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25"), published 1896

Copy of Plan of Dunimarle Estate belonging to Miss Erskine, 1839, National Monuments Record Scotland

Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Monuments Record of Scotland: Photographic collection; (Dunimarle)


Printed Sources

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

Beveridge, D. Between the Ochils and the Forth (1888)

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

New Statistical Account, Statistical Account of the Parish of Torryburn, vol. 9, (1845)

The Gardener's Magazine, vol XVII, 1841, p. 464

The Gardener's Magazine, vol XVIII, 1842, p. 592

Todd, J. Dunimarle Guides. 6 editions variously 1873-84

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.

We add sites of national importance to the inventory using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

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Printed: 06/05/2021 17:23