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A winter ramble with views

Just up the road at House of the Binns, a short woodland walk, lovely panoramic views, and parkland with picnic spots is lovely any time of year. It makes for a crisp winter walk and in the new year the snowdrops begin the parade of year-long colour on the estate

Peacock at the House of the Binns
"Welcome to the House of the Binns"

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, House of the Binns is the ancestral home of the Dalyells; the site was chosen for its proximity to Linlithgow Palace. There is plenty of rich history to explore here in the family stories. The first Baronet (1615–1685) was General Tom Dalyell, “Bluidy Tam,” famous for brutally defeating the Covenanters on behalf of Charles II at the Battle of Rullion Green in the Pentlands. The most recent occupant was the late Tam Dalyell MP. The house is closed at present but the grounds are free for you to wander; the gates close at 5.30pm.

The approach drive (off the A7904 near Mannerston Holdings) meanders up through a field of sheep to a car park close to the house. If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by the resident peacocks. I counted eight peacocks plus two babies the day I was there; there may be more.

The walk starts beside the house, and is an easy trail through the woodland. It’s not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs as there are steps and tree roots to navigate. You emerge from the woodland into a field, and head up towards a tower.

The tower is a folly built in 1826 as a result of a wager; Sir James Dalyell and his friends had an after-dinner wager on who could come up with the best way of wasting £100. It sounds like the sort of thing wealthy young men would do, but Sir James was 52 years old at the time and didn’t really have anything to prove! The story is on the benches that surround the tower, I’ll leave it to you to read it when you go!

Linger at the tower to take in the wonderful views all around. To the North, look out over Blackness Castle and the Forth to the Cleish Hills and the Ochils. To the south, over the bings to the Pentlands which make for a lovely skyline.

From the tower, you have two options: through the gate closest to the tower and back down into the woodland to complete the short woodland circuit, which comes back out near the house where you started. You pass the remains of General Tam’s smoke house on the way down.

General Tam's smoke house
General Tam's smoke house

Or, from the tower, strike off across the open field (it’s waymarked) for a longer parkland walk. The grass is quite long, and at the bottom of this field there is a gate which, when we went in September, was accessed by an unavoidable and very muddy patch. Sturdy boots suitable for a bit of mud are recommended if you take the parklands walk.

Bear to your right to follow the trail past “Paddy’s Cottage.” There are various little trails and plenty of picnic spots to be found in this corner of the estate, so you can divert, and there is a wet woodland which is a wildlife haven.

Following the waymarked path, you walk beside a burn at the edge of an arable field until you arrive at a wooden bridge. This was the old southern approach from the road to House of the Binns. The wee old stone bridge that you see here carried carriages in the late 18th century over the burn and up the approach to the house.

Bear right over the bridge; you are now on the route of the old southern approach. It takes you to the walled garden (closed for safety reasons) and past the old stables where The Royal Scots Greys – the regiment founded by General Tam Dalyell – stabled their horses (also fenced off for conservation work). The trail takes you back to the drive you came in on, and back to the car park.

After your walk, treat yourself to refreshments a few minutes along the road at New Hopetoun Gardens. There is a wonderful orangerie tea room open from 10am to 4.30pm with indoors and outdoors seating. See

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Article published in Konect December 2020

Author: Helen-Jane Shearer


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