Before the snow came, the family and I had a winter outing to Dalkeith Palace, which is not so very far away. The younger members of the party had the adventure playground in their sights, but I had other ideas, finding old estates rather fascinating.
Dalkeith Palace is one of the houses of the Duke of Buccleuch, a Palladian mansion built in the early 1700’s on the site of a 12th Century castle. The Buccleuchs haven’t lived there for many a year (the present Duke splits his time between Bowhill, near Selkirk, and Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire) – it is currently leased to the University of Wisconsin, who regularly send over contingents of students to their ‘Scottish campus’.
But back to the grounds, which were developed during the 1800s. As is the case with many of these large estates which have slightly ‘gone to seed’, there are living clues quietly growing away amongst the self-regenerating woods, including two beautiful large cedars of Lebanon and one or two Giant Redwoods (Sequoia) in the woods along with some other key Victorian species such as English Yew and specimen rhododendrons.
That said, there are some even older veteran oak trees dating back to the late 16th/ early 17th Century when that part of the estate was a deer park. Recently, however, the estates staff have been clearing wild R.ponticums which grow like weeds over here, to reveal a landscaped amphitheatre, where presumably plays, including some perhaps by William Shakespeare, were performed of a Summer’s evening. Leading into the ‘stage area’ is the entrance to one of two man-made tunnels, one of which remains open to the public, and good fun it is too! The Victorians were very into their tunnels, grottos and follies and the concept of garden as playground.
The main remaining feature of the gardens, which were formal in those days but which have now been put down to grass is an amazing Orangerie, whose stonework is in surprisingly good condition, given that it was built around 1832. This outstandingly ornate building is a 12 sided glasshouse which had oak framed sash windows flanked by Roman Doric columns on a stepped base. A clever feature is the central stone roof support which also doubled as a chimney for the two hot water boilers that provided the heating. It is reputed that the furnaces which heated the water required one tonne of coal per day to keep the place heated – very much a marker of a high status household! As well as oranges, the glasshouse also housed figs and other Mediterranean fruits. According to the label, there are plans to restore the Orangerie to its former glory. This, I think, may take quite a lot of funds to do, although it’s pleasing to note that there’s been quite a lot of recent work on the estate, clearing out ‘weed’ trees and wild rhododendrons, highlighting the original specimen trees remaining and giving a hint of what the pleasure grounds must have been like in the 1800’s.
A late 18th Century ice house can also be found in the woods… but more about their function another time….
More details of Dalkeith Palace can be found at: http://www.dalkeithcountryestate.com/