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Garden of the Season – Newhailes NTS

February 28th 2023

Why should we visit?

Newhailes House on the outskirts of Musselburgh, is one of the fine mansions that grew up around Edinburgh from the 17th century onwards. Constructed in 1686, it was subsequently worked on by some of the country’s finest architects, who also used their skills to set out the grounds.

Today those gardens are one of the last surviving designed landscapes from the early 18th century and the National Trust for Scotland has been carrying out a programme of restoration that is preserving them for future generations to enjoy.

Story of the Garden

The garden was created under the direction of horticulturist and garden designer John Hay. Amongst his creations was a water garden with cascades and ponds, an elevated ‘ladies walk’, where the women of the household could stroll undisturbed, and a ha-ha, now recently restored, which allowed for unbroken views over the surrounding countryside whilst also acting as a stock barrier. Like so many great gardens, the events and social changes of the 20th century led to its decline, but the National Trust for Scotland has undertaken a programme of stabilisation and restoration in order to preserve what remains.


Newhailes’ most famous feature is its shell grotto. This ruined structure is in fact the most complete example of its kind in Scotland. When built, the interior would have been studded with shells collected from the nearby shoreline and also with gemstones and pieces of mirror. It originally formed part of the elaborate water cascade and the remains of wine glasses found inside suggest that the Dalrymple family, who owned Newhailes, would have used the building as a place for entertaining their guests.

Don’t Miss

The historic greenhouses have been restored and are now used for events, while the wall around the flower garden has been repaired. This conservation work has helped to preserve the integrity of this important landscape, while original plantings include the first evergreen oaks in Scotland. But Newhailes is not all about the past, there is also a thriving community garden on the estate.



Doghailes dog show at Newhailes House, a National Trust for Scotland property in Musselburgh, East Lothian.

Photograph: Mike Wilkinson…07/08/21

Copyright: Mike Wilkinson.


Anything else to look out for?

The walks and trails through the estate are popular with locals and visitors and the WeeWhailes playground is an exciting place for children to run off steam. Wildflowers grow across the estate and in the field margins surrounding it.

Best Time to Visit

In spring, as the leaves begin to open, birdsong fills the trees. More than 60 species live at Newhailes, including barn owls and woodpeckers and they are at their most vocal early in the year.

Any Recommendations in the Area

Shepherd House at nearby Inveresk is one of Scotland’s finest private gardens. Created by artist Lady Ann, and her husband, Sir Charles Fraser, the garden holds a collection of more than 70 snowdrop varieties. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons until 2 March and on Saturday, 18 and Sunday, 19 February between 11am and 4pm, the garden will be open to visitors, with proceeds from ticket sales going to Scotland's Gardens Scheme charities.


Newhailes House is situated six miles south east of Edinburgh on the A6095 Newhailes Road.


The estate is open daily - dawn to dusk.

Entrance is free.

House tours are £12/£10 and Weehailes Playpark costs £3 for children and £1 for adults.

Courtesy of The Herald