Scotland calling

13 December 2017
Ben Pentreath

Charlie and I are just back from a beautiful few days in Scotland. While the rest of the country was blanketed in snow, we had freezing, clear, sparkling days. We were staying at the incredible Pineapple, maybe the most distinctive of all the Landmark Trust follies, which had always been a building close to Charlie’s heart.

But we started with a night and day in Edinburgh – which I suppose must rank as one of my favourite cities in the world.

The austere simplicity of the New Town is always breathtaking.

My old front door at 34 Howe Street, from when I was a student – still dark blue after all these years.

James Scott Antiques still on the corner of Dundas Street.

The front door that followed Howe Street, also the same colour.  6, Abercromby Place.  The boarded up windows were our drawing room. I still remember that incredible flat with its stone staircase and double-height hall, and freezing, tall-ceilinged rooms.

We glimpsed architect Richard Murphy’s own house on Hart Street; Charlie was a bit surprised when I told him it was the RIBA House of the Year in 2016.

Carlton Hill, dreamy in the brilliant light.

We plunged into the Old Town, with narrow wynds and closes off the Royal Mile.

The shadows remained long all day. The sun stays low at this time of year.

Fantastic Victoria Street, which I can’t have walked down for at least 25 years. There used to be a wonderful second-hand book shop here – many of the books still in my office library. I was so sad to see that Cresser’s Brush shop shut up years ago. I’m sure many readers of the blog will remember that beautiful shopfront.

Mavis posing:

Greek revival; greek light.

We left Edinburgh in falling light and arrived at the Pineapple by dark, finding our way up a long track to see the great stone dome looming through the trees.  We soon had a fire lit in the wood burning stove. Mavis made herself at home immediately.  The Pineapple itself is flanked by two tiny stone bothies. One has the sitting room and kitchen; the other, bedrooms and bathroom. 

At first light we work early and saw an incredible sunrise.

The Pineapple itself is flanked by two long walls of an ancient walled garden. They are blank, because they would have once been the back wall of glasshouses.The walls were double lined and chimney flues ran between the two skins of masonry; fires would be lit to keep the walls warm and the four urns on top of the wall are chimneys. Mavis ignored all this and hurtled around the giant walled garden.

Later that morning we went to St. Andrew’s, via the tiny village of Culross, which had been beautifully restored in the 60s and 70s under the National Trust for Scotland’s Little Houses Improvement Scheme.

The town is amazing. It feels almost Danish in character from time to time. It was also completely deserted (maybe the weather?) which gave it a slightly unreal air.

Possibly our favourite house of all:

The Abbey Church had a good example of the famous stacking plastic chairs that always seem to hang around such places.

And a nice pair of benches, painted sky blue.

St. Andrews was grey and cold and bright, 

and timeless. We bought supper at Minick’s and cheese from I. J. Mellis.

I loved the Gospel Hall lettering.

One street had good colours on the doors.

The air was clear but the wind perishingly cold on the beach.

We made our way home and arrived at dusk, and tucked ourselves in for the evening. Are you watching series two of The Crown, I wonder? Probably.

On Sunday we again woke bright and early, but decided on a day of local exploring. The land was deep in frost.

First light:

Even early in the morning, with freezing, freezing air, the south facing red-brick wall was warm.

First we went to explore the Hermit’s Cave – one fragment of the expansive 18th century landscape of Dunmore Park, of which the Pineapple and walled garden formed one eccentric part. 

Tucked in a spinney, we found the cave.

Sadly filled with rubbish and old bits of mattress.   We walked on and discovered the ruins of Dunmore Park – a Tudor-esque stone mansion, designed by William Wilkins (architect of the London National Gallery); occupied until the 1960s, but now an empty, stripped-out shell.

The rooms were haunting and sad.

Fragments of great parkland everywhere:

And, surrounding, ever present but still beautiful industrial landscape of the later 20th century.

Dunmore Village, with little cottages around a bowling green.


Elphinstone Tower, a fragment of a much larger tower house that became the mausoleum of the Dunmore family – now itself all sadly a ruin.

Back to the Pineapple.  The powerful work of the Landmark Trust in restoring this beautiful building could not be more apparent when seeing these decaying ruins elsewhere in the landscape.

Late afternoon brought out the most beautiful light of all, like stepping into a tiny corner of Italy.

No one knows the architect of the Earl of Dunmore’s incredible creation; no-one even knows quite when it was all built – the current thought being that the Pineapple dome was added to the lower-level loggia after the Earl returned from his (disastrous) tenure as Governor of Virginia for George III.

Last light. The following morning, we woke and left early. We we all sad to leave, but above all Mavis really didn’t want to go. We had a long drive ahead of us, back down south, with the great hills of Cumbria, and the central belt of England and the Midlands blanketed in a beautiful covering of thick snow, rolling past us as the hours went by. Blinking, somewhat, we arrived back in the flat in London. Work this week is rather intense, as it always has a habit of being in those last weeks before Christmas; I’m writing from Dorset, where we’ve been overnight – back up to London this morning. The Pineapple already feels like a slightly distant dream, but a wonderful one.

28 comments on this post

Loved the story as you travelled around and the Edinburgh photos reminded me that I need to return asap! Thank you so much for sharing as it has made me really smile. Particularly enjoyed the brightly coloured doors and the exquisite windows in the main dome of the Pineapple! Happy 2018 to you all!


I think you mean Calton Hill…no “r”.

Bailey Elizabethsays:

Stunning photos. Thank you for sharing.
Merry Christmas to you both and Mavis xx


Ben, were you in the Georgian Architecture Society at Edinburgh?! I studied abroad there from the US in 1993-94 and joined that society (as well as the ones for poetry, wine tasting, film, and hill walking!) I remember a stylish Christmas party with mince pies, though I was very shy and knew no one. Might you have been there?! It would be such a kick to think that I was at the same party with the wonderful Ben Pentreath, whose blog my mother and I adore. Really we are pinching ourselves with delight over what you notice and admire.

Michelle Annsays:

I love your photos of frozen foliage. They’d make wonderful prints.


What a lovely blog post! I saw a friend this week, an expat Aussie, and she and her husband are considering moving to Scotland. Needless to say, I made haste to forward it to her. Glorious pictures.

As Dana points out above, in the US, a pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, widely deployed on hotel signs and menus and door knockers since colonial times, so I suspect the Earl took that from his tenure in Virginia. The pineapple building (I hesitate to term it a folly) is such a sight, I just want to hug it, although it would be a bit cold and a lot to wrap your arms around.

My best wishes for a wonderful Christmas to the pair of you as well as all the creatures that make your houses and gardens the joy that they are.

Deborah, Cambridge, Massachusetts


Your photo tour today was magnificent. Thank you so much for taking us along. Sending holiday greetings to both of you (and Mavis).


Thank you for this gorgeous post. Absolutely adore the Pineapple – it’s elongated humour and slight creepiness in certain lights. Such Scottish chilliness too – it must be cold, as Charlie has his ear flaps down. (By the way and at a slight tangent, I totally agree with your piece in Country Life about the usefulness of dining rooms, and not just for dining. I also overwinter plants in mine, and it performs well as a temporary office). Best wishes, Nicola


So lovely to see the Pineapple again, we stayed there in January 15 years ago, and harboured dreams of renovating the castle. Such an amazing building, although slightly creepy when crossing between buildings at the end of the evening to retire!
Love your slice of Britain every week, as an expat now in Canada, thank you!

Isla Simpsonsays:

LOVE the claret gloss of the barge boards on the houses of Dumore Village. And of course, the pineapple, that magnificent fruit under the Landmark’s care is just magical. If only I could teleport myself there right now. xxxx


I almost feel like I went along with you because, as always, so nice to see lots and lots of photos rather than just a few. Mavis has grown up into quite a great little travel buddy.

Jan Fawkesays:

So beautiful! I’ve not been a fan of Edinburgh in the past. You may just have changed my mind.


Your photographs and descriptions are always such a gift! Thank you.


Hmmm, the Earl may have been a disastrous governor but in Virginia we still use the pineapple, especially as part of our Christmas decorations, as a symbol of hospitality. A coincidence? hhhmmm


truly beautiful! thank you for sharing your wondrously building filled scottish expedition, dear ben! dunmore mansion, haunting and sad but in your thoughtful photos, so so noble, still! lovely to see the corner red mail box in edinburgh. that mavis girl sure knows how to enjoy herself. what a treat to enjoy the pineapple folly! i am deeply appreciative of your blog (such a dreadful word), dear ben.


Wonderful images you have captured the ruins of Dunmore Park magnificently. The photos stir the imagination and you are transported in time to a world long gone. The wintery scenes make it even more beautiful thank you Ben Charlie and Mavis for once again letting us share your unbelievable travels – your blog is the best and only blog l read a real treat.Enjoy the Christmas festivities and l hope you have a peaceful joyous Christmas.


There seems to be something in the top second row slightly to the right of the last photo of the Pineaple?


A pineapple shaped room. Well if that don’t beat all!

I had such high hopes for that hermit’s cave.


What a dream …… heaven, heaven, heaven ………
These amazing photos from Scotland are the best !
Scotland is always worth to visit it. The Victoria Street in Edinburgh, there was a shop called ANTA in the past times ( now
in George Street ),we use our ANTA mugs always and think about Scotland ! The follie is so beautiful !
Love every photo !
Thank you for sharing with us!
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂

Rita Taylorsays:

Wonderful…Wonderful!!! Thank you for taking the time to give such an inspiring…beautiful gaze through your camera!!! I was transported with amazed intrigue!!!


Your old flat in Abercromby Place sold earlier this year for £840,888 having been rather charmlessly overhauled. Such is the Edinburgh property market these days. Nicola Sturgeon is decamping while Bute House is repaired.


NB: Charlie looks like he needs to find some seriously toasty thermal undies in his Christmas stocking before he agrees to venture north again!

The Landmark Trust is a national treasure, indeed.

dominique lepagesays:

C’est merveilleux, merci !!


Lovely surprise to find you all this cold, grey Chicago morning and perfect with my coffee. I especially am happy to learn two new words, bothie and spinney. The light in the pictures from urban to countryside was beautiful and meditative. So pleased that Mavis could be part of your adventure. May your weeks before Christmas be busy, but pleasant and fruitful.


Thank you for such glorious photographs. They made me homesick. I went to nursery school in Abercromby Place ( we lived in Leith, which in the 50s was not the chi chi area it is now). I went to St Andrews University. Haven’t been “home since my parents died. Time to go back.


You’ve made my day ! Beautiful pics


Beautiful blog post. How I just love winter- the most inspiring of seasons 🙂


Thank you for this lovely post. My husband and I are New Yorkers transplanted to London for awhile. I’m loving exploring this great and charming city and England beyond. Scotland, and most especially Edinburgh, are high on my list. I will remember your post when we visit next year.

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