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Until the signs went up, few people knew that hidden behind an overgrown walled garden four miles east of Edinburgh stood Newhailes, a remarkable Palladian villa with views to the Firth of Forth. After 200 years of anonymity—and escalating upkeep costs—it was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1997; its weathered doors were opened to the public for the first time last year.

Apart from some early-18th-century additions and refinements, Newhailes has hardly been altered since the notable Scottish architect James Smith built it in 1686. The ornate interiors (gilding, wallpaper, damask, needlework) and rich furnishings reflect the taste of Sir David Dalrymple, who bought Newhailes in 1709; the 7,000-volume library was described by Samuel Johnson as "the most learned room in Europe." All of it survived largely intact, following years of benign neglect and a gradual decline in the family fortunes—the fate of the villa depended, as National Trust consultant Julian Birchall puts it, on "the fact that nobody in this house earned a penny after the early 1790's." But it is to those indolent generations that we owe the pleasure of being able to wander through this 18th-century time capsule. A sensitive conservation strategy, with an emphasis on arresting decay rather than on restoration (look out for the cobwebs in the untouched vaulted kitchens), has successfully preserved the enchanted atmosphere of a house known, with good reason, as the Sleeping Beauty.

The Palladian manor Newhailes, near Musselburgh, is open for tours through late October (44-131/653-5599).

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