Archive for Ruin

Mavisbank House, Loanhead

Posted in Edinburgh, Gardens, History, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , on October 9, 2015 by mysearchformagic

My last post featured a return visit to the lost gardens of Penicuik, a wonderfully wild park designed in the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. On the same day that I visited Penicuik, I also took the opporturnity to explore nearby Mavisbank, another house and garden created by Sir John which now lies in ruins. Just like Penicuik, Mavisbank is currently emerging from years of ruin and neglect, but still retains a remarkably magical atmosphere.

The easiest route to Mavisbank is along the river Esk, where a footpath has been created which leads from  the outskirts of the village of Polton along to the house and estate. The approach to the house itself leads up an old, overgrown driveway which is rather magical itself, giving just a hint of the faded grandeur to come.

The magical overgrown driveway leading to Mavisbank House

The magical overgrown driveway leading to Mavisbank House, Loanhead

Built (and largely designed) by Sir John during the 1720s, Mavisbank was once a beautiful country retreat, with one eighteenth-century visitor exclaiming that it was more like Tivoli in Italy than Scotland. Since the nineteenth century, however, the house’s fate has been less happy – sold by the Clerks in 1815, it later became an asylum. By the 1950s the land around it had become a scrap yard, and in the 1970s the house was gutted by fire. Now it is a sad and fragile, but undeniably picturesque, ruin.

The sad but picturesque ruins of Mavisbank House

The sad but picturesque ruins of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

You don’t have to be a structural engineer to see that the ruins of Mavisbank are in a pretty bad way. Subsidence caused by mining in the area has taken its tool, which huge cracks snaking across the house’s buckling walls. In fact, parts of the building looks like they are only being held up by the network of scaffolding that pokes out from its windows and roof. On the rather damp afternoon that I visited, the place felt lonely and abandonded, empty apart from me and the flock of noisy rooks that seem to have taken up residence in Mavisbank’s shattered shell.

A fragile wing of ruined Mavisbank House, Loanhead

A fragile wing of ruined Mavisbank House, Loanhead

A trust has been set up to rescue Mavisbank, however, and work has already been done to clear the land around it of bushes and trees and allow more public access. High on the hill behind the house can be seen the earthworks of what enthusiastic antiquarian Sir John believed to be a Roman camp, but is more probably some sort of medieval fortification. Out in front are the swampy remains of an ornamental pond that once sat at the centre of a carefully landscaped garden, and in the distance is a pretty pigeon house.

My favourite part of the house was the south side, which I suspect contained the service quarters. Featuing a deep basement, now filled with undergrowth but still retaining its wooden window frames, this wing was tantalisingly shadowy and eerie.

The gloomy south wing of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

The gloomy south wing of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

At one point it looked like Mavisbank would be lost forever, its ownership contested for years as it slowly crumbled. Now the Mavisbank Trust are working with Scottish Heritage and the local council to secure the future of the house and grounds, and preserve it for future generations.

In the meantime, it remains a marvellously evocative ruin with a uniquely magical aura.

For more details of the Mavisbank Trust and their work, click here.

Return to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Castle, Caves, Gardens, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by mysearchformagic

It’s been well over a year since I made my first trip to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik, but I have thought a lot about this wild and wonderful place since that visit. Last week I was able to visit again, and explore more of its magical corners.

First on my list of things to see was Knightslaw Tower. Although it may look medieval, the tower was actually built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an enthusiastic antiquarian with a taste for the ancient. When first constructed the tower could be seen from miles around, and dominated the rest of the Penicuik estate. Since its heyday, however, the tower has fallen into disrepair, and the high trees which have grown up around it hide it from the outside world. The result is a rather melancholy, but definitely quite magical ruin.

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

Next I walked on past the majestic ruins of the huge mansion of Penicuik House, built by Sir John’s son James in the 1760s, and into the valley below. Here I found the river Esk, which babbles its way down from here to nearby Roslin Glen, another of my favourite spots. Once over the river I crossed a field, heading uphill until I reached the Hurley Ponds.

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds are another of Sir John Clerk’s creations, part of his ambitious plans to landscape his park at Penicuik. Once used as fishing ponds, they have now largely returned to nature, spookily quiet apart from the odd quack from the resident flock of ducks.

Sir John was obviously rather partial to a magical experience himself, and evidence of this can be found in his construction of the Hurley Cave, a rock-cut underground passage which leads from the side of the hills closest to the house into this secluded valley. The original entrance to the cave was over a bridge across the Esk, where a cascade waterfall was constructed to add to the sense of drama. Visitors would presumably have been guided through the cave with candles or burning torches, and half way down would have found a carved Latin inscription Tenebrosa occultaque cave, beware dark and hidden things. The other end of the cave emerges from a rusticated stone doorway in the hill, and can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Unfortunately vandalism and structural problems mean that the Hurley Cave has had to be locked up. Its heavy metal door does, however, have a large gap at the top which allows a glimpse of the dark depths beyond. I couldn’t resist sticking my camera into the gap and taking a picture. It offers an enticing hint of what lies beneath.

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Much work has been done to consolidate and preserve Penicuik House and its estate in recent years, largely thanks to the hard work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. Apparently both the cave and the tower are on their list of works for the future, but restoring both will be an expensive job, and fundraising is ongoing. In the meantime I was happy to enjoy the overgrown, rather sombre mood of the lost gardens, and imagine the dingy depth of the Hurley Cave. I like to think Sir John would have approved!

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

For details on how you can support the sterling work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust, click here.

Tintern Abbey Seen by Moonlight, Peter van Lerberghe

Posted in Art, Church, History, Museum, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , on May 5, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Today I’ve been to the Ruin Lust exhibition at London’s Tate Gallery. It was a bit of an odd hotch-potch to be honest, and despite its theme, was sadly lacking in magic.
I was however rather taken with this early 19th Century watercolour by Peter van Lerberghe from the Tate’s own collection. Created at a time when exploring romantic ruins was all the rage, the painting captures a group of brave tourists discovering the Gothic delights of Tintern Abbey by torchlight.

Tintern Abbey seen by Moonlight, 1802 by Peter van Lerberghe

Tintern Abbey seen by Moonlight, 1802 by Peter van Lerberghe

It all looks like great fun. I’d love to do it myself, although I might not be bold enough to teeter along the top of the ruins like some of these visitors. And to be honest, I don’t think Cadw, who now take care of the picturesque ruins of Tintern Abbey, would be very keen!

The Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Caves, Edinburgh, Gardens, History, House, Landscape, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Nestled at the feet of the Pentland Hills not far from Edinburgh, Penicuik is a fairly quiet, unexceptional town, not the kind of place you would expect to find magic. But on its outskirts lies the estate of Penicuik House, a grand mansion which is now a stately ruin. The huge gardens which surround it were once some of the most impressive in Scotland, but since the house was gutted by fire in 1899 they have been slowly returning to nature. The result is a wonderfully wild and picturesque landscape now known as the “Lost Gardens of Penicuik”.

The stately ruins of Penicuik House

The stately ruins of Penicuik House

Penicuik House has long been the home of the Clerk family, and indeed they still live in the imposing stable block near the ruins of the late 18th Century house. Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, the famous antiquarian and politician who lived here until 1755, was responsible for much of what we see in the gardens today. A huge fan of ancient Rome, he littered the grounds with picturesque neoclassical fountains, and even built a dramatic cave leading to a lake based on the famous grotto at Pausillipo near Naples.

The view from Penicuik House towards the Low Pond

The view from Penicuik House towards the Low Pond

In the 18th Century the gardens at Penicuik were compared to the romantic landscape of Tivoli near Rome, famous for its huge waterfalls and rugged cliffs. Nowadays the place is rather overgrown, and on the day I visited the Pentlands were cloaked in heavy grey clouds, but this sense of brooding neglect only added to the magical atmosphere.

A picturesque gorge in the grounds of Penicuik House

A picturesque gorge in the grounds of Penicuik House

Some areas of the garden, including that ‘Roman’ cave, are still off limits to visitors, and in need of restoration. The opulent terraces are hidden in the overgrowth, the once proud gates are rusted and its crumbling walls covered in moss. The impressive ruins of Penicuik House itself are currently being consolidated, and a new project has also recently been launched to revive the large walled gardens which sit close by. It’s good to see the gardens of Penicuik being brought back to life, but I hope they still retain their wild, overgrown magic.

A neoclassical fountain with Latin inscription in the gardens of Penicuik House

A neoclassical fountain with Latin inscription in the gardens of Penicuik House

The inclement weather on the day of my visit prevented me from fully exploring the “Lost Gardens of Penicuik”, but you can be sure that I will be back there soon to soak up its unique, enchanting atmosphere of elegant, magical decay.

A lichen-covered gate in the grounds of Penicuik House

A lichen-covered gate in the grounds of Penicuik House

Saltcoats Castle, East Lothian

Posted in Castle, History with tags , on September 27, 2012 by mysearchformagic

In my last post I touched on the magical potential of deserted buildings, when I featured Alex Chinneck’s contemporary art installation Telling the Truth Through False Teeth. This time I am looking at another very different, more ancient example of charming decay. There is something wonderful about ruins, and picturesque castles and abbeys have long been an obsession of mine. Nowadays most well-known ruins are preserved and well tended by English Heritage or the National Trust, but every so often I stumble across somewhere like Saltcoats Castle, which is still in the process of disintegrating, and is quite literally crumbling before our eyes.

The path to Saltcoats Castle

The path to Saltcoats, which sits next to the pretty village of Gullane in East Lothian, is so overgrown as to be almost non existent. The walk involves damp shoes and avoiding swathes of nettles, but the castle itself is well worth the trouble.

Saltcoats Castle from the east

Built in the late 16th Century by Patrick Livingtoun, this imposing house was occupied by the Hamilton family until around 1800. For the next few years it was used as a handy source of free masonry by local builders, with nature also playing its part in the building’s gradual dilapidation. Its courtyard is now filled with bushes and grass, trees pushing up through the once-proud sandstone walls.

Saltcoats Castle

The boards which once blocked the gates to the castle courtyard have long since been pulled down, allowing entry to those who are brave (or foolish) enough to wander through the precarious ruins. Dark doorways into shadowy undercrofts can be seen through the undergrowth, and in one corner it is possible to peer into the murky depths of a barrel vaulted basement below, a space which once probably housed the castle’s kitchen. The remaining walls of the tower look solid enough at their base, but towards the top large cracks and gaps between the stones suggest that they are far from stable.

The overgrown, crumbling walls of Saltcoats Castle

Saltcoats Castle is a place brimming with atmosphere. There’s something maudlin about its slow descent into ruin, but something wonderful about it too. This is the kind of castle that inspired the 18th Century passion for ruins, which resulted in wealthy land owners constructing their own ruined ‘Gothick follies’ as decoration for their landscaped gardens and estates. Standing beside its craggy, overgrown walls, surrounded by the wide open vistas and rich farmland of East Lothian, it is easy to see why the Romantics found magic in such places. Unlike the many better-known castles nearby which are open to the public, with their gift shops and car parks, Saltcoats retains that air of romance. It’s sad perhaps that such a historic building has been left to fall into such a fragile state, but I can’t help but be slightly glad that Saltcoats remains virtually untouched, totally unrestored and ever so slightly magical.

The view from Saltcoats Castle