Country houses for sale

A truly exceptional castle

A truly exceptional 16th century castle in Scotland, and a piece of architectural history with its own ghost, has come to the market

One of Sir Robert Lorimer’s finest works, Earlshall Castle near St Andrews in Fife, has come to the market and offers an exceptional opportunity to own a beautiful piece of Scottish history. The property’s origins date back to the 15th century, when Sir Alexander Bruce was granted the lands and barony, while the main castle itself was built in the mid 16th century.

Unique for the time, the castle was constructed to an unusual floorplan and features many much larger windows than most grand Scottish houses were allowed at the time, for defensive reasons, and over 8,400sq ft of living space. Earlshall castle exterior

There are many noteable period features throughout the building, but the crowning glory must be the famous painted ceiling in the Long Gallery (below). It represents the coats of arms of the principal noble families of Scotland as well as those of European royalty and totally imaginary nobles such as David, King of Jerusalem, Hector, Prince of Troy, and Arthur, King of Britain, all painted along the full length of the 50 foot long roof in grey and black tempera.  earlshall castle painted ceiling

The house is also said to come with its own ghost. The Bloody Bruce, Baron of Earlshall in the late 17th century,  earned his fame through his brutal putting down of the Covenanters, and it’s said his footsteps can still be heard on the spiral staircase at night.

The restoration

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The castle sadly fell out of family ownership in later years, and by 1890 more than half a century’s decay and neglect had taken their toll. Although the roof was substantially present, all the window frames and shutters had disappeared and been replaced with wooden bars. In addition a colossal growth of ivy was threatening the stability of the west tower.

It was then that Robert Mackenzie, a bleach merchant from Perth, purchased the castle and employed the newly-qualified Robert Lorimer to undertake its restoration; he was of course later knighted and retains his reputation as arguably Scotland’s greatest architect. The concept of restoring an old dilapidated building to live in was unique in the 19th century, which only adds to the unusual status of this property as it now stands. Earshall castle bedroom

The floorplan comprises a central block with off-set towers at each end and a romantic and pleasing aspect from the gardens to the east. The castle was built in two parts with the main castle lying to the north of a courtyard and the smaller, original building ‘Dummy Daws’ forming a separate building to the south. Principal accommodation offers ten bedrooms, eight reception rooms, two dressing rooms and six bathrooms.

Additional accommodation can be found in the three-bedroom Gate House, the one bedroom Dowry House and a further two-bedroom cottage. There are also kennels ad a Dutch barn.

More than being a feature of the castle, the gardens’ reputation proceeds them: the topiary lawn is the main room and has been listed; indeed they are Earlshall’s best known feature. The mature yews were bought by Lorimer and are now over 125 years old, while the secret box garden is also listed; in front is an orchard, while the croquet lawn sits in the south-east corner.

To the west of the castle is an avenue which leads past the ‘doocot’ to the policy woodland. A ha ha divides off parkland grazing to the west which extends to about 11 acres; woodland surrounds the parkland on three sides. The parkland, gardens and policies extend to just over 34 acres in all and there is an additional 19 acres of grazing.

Earlshall Castle is just 20 minutes’ drive from St Andrews and within easy reach of Edinburgh and its International Airport.

The price is on application. Please contact Savills on 0131 268 9164 or visit