Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Balcaskie and its garden were designed by the Scottish architectural genius, Sir William Bruce (1630-1710). He introduced the Baroque into the dramatic Scottish landscape and at Balcaskie, his own house,  he has left the earliest example of his architectural work. He bought the house and estate in Fife in 1665 as his own seat and his remodeling of the existing house and his design for the landscape, most of which survive, were where he first put his architectural ideas into practice.

By he time Sir William Bruce bought Balcaskie he was already in the employ of the Crown. He was the younger son of a Perthshire laird who embarked on a career as a merchant in Holland and France, the perfect  cover for espionage, which led to his involvement in the Restoration of Charles II. A knighthood and government posts followed but his greatest reward was his appointment in 1667 as collector of fines and property taxes for the Scottish Treasury Commission. The eleven aristocrats who sat on the commission, collected and distributed the royal revenues, particularly among themselves. They were wont to channel this revenue stream into rebuilding their ancestral seats, and they often sought the advice of their tax-collector turned architect, Sir William Bruce.

His transformation of Balcaskie demonstrated his virtuoso ability. The house was approached by a straight drive that passed through a cour d'honneur  (only the third such to be built in Britain) flanked by matching pavilions and screen walls that led into the entrance court. A wing of the original house formed one of the wings and Bruce built a matching copy. he gable ends of the two wings are still visible even after he entrance court was built over in the 19th century to create a new entrance front flush with them.

The garden front, which concealed the original house, was a simple classical facade with square tower pavilions at either end and a central door into the garden framed by mannerist pilasters. A wrought iron balcony that concealed the garden door has  been recently removed and the original appearance of the house restored.

Sir William Bruce was one of the first architects in Britain to tie his designs to the landscape. He centered Balcaskie on a view of the Bass Rock, the dramatic volcanic island in the Firth of Forth. To lead the eye he constructed a formal garden of massive stone terraces. They fall away from the house to an avenue of sycamores which in turn lead the eye out to the sea and the dazzling eye-catcher (on a clear day) in the distance. The entrance front was aligned with Kellie Castle, an ancient tower house one mile away.

Sir William Bruce left Balcaskie in 1685 to start work on his next project, at Kinross. The property was bought eventually in 1698 by Sir Thomas Anstruther, scion of an ancient Fife family, and it remains in the family today. The present occupant Toby Anstruther inherited Balcaskie from his cousin Sir Ralph Anstruther, Comptroller of the Queen Mother's household.

The Rose Garden is undergoing restoration, starting with the removal of the roses.

The Top Terrace has been recently replanted.

The Parterre was replanted in 2009.

The Lawn.

The American Garden was laid out by William Nesfield in the second half of the 19th century.

The highlight of the garden at Balcaskie  is the Middle Terrace..

Pan oversees the landscape beyond the confine of the garden.

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