Well, the blizzards continue here at the Scottish Country Garden. The snow that arrived on Tuesday morning is still here, and the high winds tonight are blowing it and some new stuff off the fields across the roads in flowing icing sugar waves. Overnight and tomorrow, more is due. The Garden continues in its state of suspended animation for another week, when perhaps there will be signs of spring. So, rather than show you yet more pictures of snowscapes, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about…ice houses! A few weeks ago, the family visited Dalkeith Palace (see Going Gothic). Hidden in the grounds is an ice house.Built in the late 18th Century, it stored ice and kept foods refrigerated for the Palace. It is 15 metres (50 ft) wide and 10m (33 ft) deep and situated on a north facing slope, dug into the hillside, where the sunlight won’t reach it.
The way into the Ice House is via a long passage with 4 doors, an efficient airlock to keep the warm summer air out of the chamber. The ice originally came from frozen ponds on the Estate but by the 1820’s, it was imported from America and collected by cart from Edinburgh’s Leith Docks. Over the winter months, the chamber would be filled with ice, the internal doors would be shut and the food corridors filled with produce. The ice would last for almost the full year before needing refilled. An amazing Victorian invention!
So what’s the relevance to the Scottish Country Garden? We have one in the woods, well hidden but still intact albeit not as large or as well appointed as the Dalkeith Palace one. A relic, nonetheless, of a bygone age before the days of modern refrigeration and when, perhaps, winters were a little colder in this part of the world!
The ice house in our woods is concealed under rhododendrons and yew trees, and set into a hill, so not easily photographed; instead, I found some pictures of a not-dissimilar one at Eglinton Country Park in Ayrshire. The line drawing shows men barrowing the blocks of ice up from the pond, taking it in the doorway and storing it in the domed chamber.