Kellie Castle, Pittenweem, Fife KY10 2RF

Reviving The Spirit of an Historic Garden

The ancient towers of Kellie Castle date back to the 14th century, but after more than 500 years of occupation, the castle and the garden that it overlooks had slipped into a long slumber when in 1878 it found a new and sympathetic tenant in the shape of James Allan Lorimer, Professor of Public and International Law at Edinburgh University.

Professor Lorimer had decided that this Mediaeval building, close enough to the Firth of Forth to feel the salt breezes blowing up the estuary, was the perfect spot for his six gifted and artistic children to spend their summers.

Maybe it was the old stones or the romance of living in a castle that inspired them, but those children included the future portrait painter, John Henry Lorimer and his brother, Robert Lorimer, who would go on to become one of the finest architects of the arts and crafts movement.

Along with their siblings, the Lorimer brothers poured all of their energies into the garden, which was in a derelict state but rich with potential.

The Herald: Kellie CastleKellie Castle (Image: free)

They recognised that the years of neglect had in fact preserved the garden from unwise improvements and what they had on their doorstep was a traditional Scottish 'pleasaunce', an enclosed garden attached to a castle designed to enchant the senses.

After repairing the walls and clearing the brambles the Lorimers took cuttings of shrubs and grew hollyhocks, roses, soft fruit and vegetables. Some subtle changes were made to the layout. A central grass walkway was created and the corners at the eastern end of the garden were enclosed to form two 'gardens within gardens' - a feature that was to reappear in Sir Robert's later work. Then in 1900 a stone summer house was added bearing one of Robert's signature touches, a birdlike creature perched on its roof.

In everything they did the Lorimers respected the 'spirit of the place', nurturing and repairing the garden but doing nothing to disturb its intrinsic nature.

For more than 25 years Robert's sister Louise devoted herself to the garden and later Robert's son, the sculptor Hew Lorimer, who had been born at Kellie, would live there with his wife the artist Mary McLeod Wylie. It was after Mary's death in 1970 that the castle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland. Today, Kellie remains a romantic tangle of food and flowers where Scots Dumpy chickens are free to roam and bees weave their way drunkenly towards the wicker skeps that sit in three of the original bee boles set into the walls.

Kellie sits just north of Pittenweem, one of the most picturesque fishing villages of Fife’s East Neuk of Fife. The garden faces south and the high walls that protect it from coastal breezes also trap the heat, concentrating the scent of the Jacobite roses (Rosa x alba 'Alba Maxima') that erupt from amidst the nepeta and delphiniums that grow along the length of the blue and white borders lining the central walkway.


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The delphiniums are a replacement for the hollyhocks, which eventually succumbed to rust, and twin hedges of Rosa mundi, which had become exhausted, have been replaced by perennials.

One entrance to the garden leads through a south facing terrace which may once have been an archery lawn. Today peaches and figs grow in its shelter and kiwi fruits ripen in a glass growhouse. More fruit, including old varieties of apple, grow around the interior walls and gooseberries are grown as cordons to reduce the risk of mildew, while the shadiest corner is reserved for 24 varieties of rhubarb.

Since 1990, Kellie has been organic and the fruit and vegetables are sold to visitors, continuing the centuries-old tradition of the garden being productive while delighting the senses at the same time.

Details: The castle is open daily, 11am - 4pm, the gardens and estate are open dawn to dusk.

Admission: £12.50/£10.00/££7.50/£1 (Young Scot)/ NTS members free.

Contact: Tel: 01333 720271

Kellie Castle is situated three miles north-west of Pittenweem.

In association with Discover Scottish Gardens