West Lothian EH49 7NA
Why We Should Visit
In between the parcel opening and consumption of Quality Street, the festive season provides an opportunity to explore some of Scotland’s designed landscapes in winter.
It’s a chance to shake off the indulgence of mince pies and turkey and enjoy the skeletal beauty of bare trees and gardens stripped of their summer finery.
The House of the Binns provides walks, views, woodlands and a fine sprinkling of history, including some ghostly legends, that can restore the spirits and help work up an appetite for second helpings of trifle.
Story of the Garden
The house was built in 1612 by Thomas Dalyell, a prosperous Edinburgh Merchant who had made his fortune at the court of James VI.
He chose to site it north of Linlithgow, on the brow of a hill overlooking the River Forth and the grounds around it were laid out in walks and rides, with views leading down to the river.
Binns Tower stands on the hill above the house. As garden ornaments go it is pretty impressive and the view even more so, taking in the Pentlands, the Lomond hills in Fife and all three Forth bridges.
Paths lead to the tower and also criss-cross the meadows and woodlands that cover the wider estate. And keep a look-out for a ghostly rider on a white stallion galloping along the road that leads to the main gate.
The house is currently undergoing renovations, however this makeover is unlikely to be as extensive as the one that took place in 1633 when elaborate plaster ceilings were commissioned for a visit by King Charles I. But even when closed, the house provides an anchor for the designed landscape, which straddles both sides of the hill. The original walled garden fell into disuse many years ago and the outline of the formal garden in front of the house can still be seen on the ground.
Anything Else to Look Out For
The Sergeant’s Pond is where the Devil is reputed to have thrown a card table after an ill-fated game with “Bluidy Tam”, the infamous General Tam Dalyell, who suppressed the Covenanters following the Pentland Rising in 1666 and founded the Royal Scots Greys. During a drought in 1878 the pond dried up and a card table was found in its depths. The table, pictured left, was restored and returned to the house.
Best Time to Visit
In winter the views across the Forth are spectacular and in January, swathes of snowdrops appear beneath the trees. These are followed by daffodils and in early summer the meadows are full of wildflowers.
Any Recommendations in the Area?
The shallow waters of Linlithgow Loch provide food and habitat for ducks, swans and many other birds.
A path leads around the circumference and can be walked in less than an hour. Two islands of the loch are believed to be the remains of crannogs, which early settlers constructed as places of safety more than 5,000 years ago.
House of the Binns is near Old Philipstoun, on the A904 from the Forth Road Bridge to Linlithgow.
The estate is open daily, 9am-7.30pm. Entrance to the grounds is free.
New Hopetoun Gardens at Newton, close to the House of the Binns, is a garden center with a difference.
Alongside an extensive collection of unusual and garden-worthy plants, the grounds are also home to a series of themed gardens, which provide inspiration on what to grow.
At the moment hellebores are the star attraction and breeding in recent years has increased the color and variety of these hardy midwinter plants.
In addition the shop has a wide range of last-minute gifts for anyone who has yet to finish their Christmas shopping.
Popular at the moment are Amaryllis bulbs, which should be planted with two thirds of the bulb clear of the compost, placed somewhere sunny and warm and only watered when the compost is dry.
New Hopetoun Gardens also has a good range of Christmas cacti, which are very long-lived and could be one of the few Christmas gifts that lasts for decades.
These should be kept moist, but not soggy, and fed with liquid plant food during the flowering season.
Ceasing to water for six weeks from August will encourage bud stimulation for next year’s flowers.
New Hopetoun Gardens
West Lothian EH52 6QZ
In association with Discover Scottish Gardens.