architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Fife, Folly, garden history, Observatory, sham castle, Tower

The Tower, Balcarres Craig, Colinsburgh, Fife

On the rocky outcrop known as Balcarres Craig (or Crag) stands an elegant eye-catcher in the form of a circular tower with ruined curtain walls attached. It was built in 1813 for Robert Lindsay of Balcarres House as a ‘grand object in the landscape’.

Balcarres House c.1855 from the Thomas Rodger Album. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: ALB-49.

The rock was a natural feature of the Balcarres estate, and was described in 1849 as ‘worth all that twenty Browns could do for any place in conferring romantic beauty’ – a withering put-down of the artificial earth-moving of the 18th century landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

The tower as engraved for Scotland Illustrated in a Series of 80 Views, John Wilson, 1850. The artist has omitted the flagstaff although it was extant at that date.

The sham ruin gave magnificent views as well as announcing the importance of the Balcarres demesne to those who saw the tower from a distance. It was also a dramatic eye-catcher to be seen from the mansion.

The tower looking down to Balcarres House below.

The tower was originally surmounted with a flagstaff and on high days and holidays the flag was flown and cannon fired from the tower.

The view across the Firth of Forth with Bass Rock to the left.

19th century accounts boast of the views from the top of the tower – as well as Stirling and Edinburgh castles the panorama included the Firth of Forth with the mighty Bass Rock, the mountain Ben Ledi, and the Pentland, Ochil, Lammermuir and Campsie ranges of hills. Although mature trees block some of the vistas there are still magnificent views today.

Balcarres Crag by the Rev. John Adams. Published in 1932 the book recounts the minister’s rambles near the crag. Walter Buchanan’s dustjacket design featuring the folly is a delight.

In 1932 the ‘popular minister of Colinsburgh’, Rev. John Adams (d.1941) published a ‘charming volume’ of nature rambles in the neighbourhood of Balcarres Crag. He prefaced his book with a poem on the tower which begins:

Dear to me this high-flung tower,
Rich in song and story;
Fair the day, and calm the hour,
When in all its glory:
Echoing footsteps linger still
Round Balcarres’ flag-crowned hill.

The book was illustrated by Walter Buchanan, who seems to have been the Assistant Factor on the Balcarres Estate.

Walter Buchanan’s view of the tower to illustrate Balcarres Crag, 1932.

Not too far from Balcarres Craig is East Newhall Mains on the Cambo estate (mains being the Scottish term for a farm complex). In Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings, published in 1999, Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp sensed that the buildings had an interesting future and wrote that the site would ‘repay a visit in a couple of years’. The Folly Flâneuse waited a little longer than that, but it turns out that it was excellent advice.

Behind a sham castle folly façade is the Kingsbarns Distillery, meaning that for perhaps the first time ever the passions of the Flâneuse and her Uncouth Companion have been united in one building. Sláinte.

As the Rev Adams wrote in 1932 the ‘physical exertion’ of the climb to the tower will be ‘amply repaid’. There’s more on the Balcarres estate here

As well as furnishing the Uncouth Companion with whisky, Kingsbarns Distillery also provides a welcoming cafe after a good folly walk

Thank you for reading. As ever, your thoughts are very welcome – please scroll down to the comments box to get in touch. 

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12 thoughts on “The Tower, Balcarres Craig, Colinsburgh, Fife”

  1. Pennie Denton says:

    This was the Flaneuse on top form helped by a great folly and the wonderful illustrations by John Wilson and Walter Buchanan and, it seems, by the Uncouth Companion. I would love a picture of them both at the distillery.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Pennie. The Balcarres Crag book is a complete delight – as is the folly itself. I’m afraid the Folly Flâneuse and her Uncouth Companion are both camera-shy!

  2. Gwyn Headley says:

    Delighted that East Newhall Mains has found a worthy use, but sadly, impoverished fish hawkers can’t lash out £90 on a bottle of Scotch. One day, perhaps.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Gwyn. Thank you, as ever, for your books which are the starting point for the flâneuse’s every expedition. A very nice lady at Kingsbarns gave the Uncouth Companion some samples – I got a coffee and the car keys.

  3. Roger Smith says:

    I was very interested to see your feature on Balcarres Crag. You may recall that I have been in touch before with regard to the book on Scottish Monuments and Memorials I have been compiling. This is now complete and should be going into production shortly.
    I have an extensive section on Follies and as a courtesy contacted Balcarres Estate to see if they had a preferred route up to the folly. They replied very firmly that they didn’t want any publicity for the folly as it was dangerous to go up there, and thy asked me not to include Balcarres Crag in my book. In the interests of good relations I reluctantly agreed to this request.
    I would be very interested to know if the question of access arose during your visit to Balcarres and if you have been in contact with the estate.
    Look forward to hearing from you,
    Best wishes,

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Roger. I walked up to the tower and although there were private signs for the gardens to Balcarres House, which of course I respected, there were no issues with accessing the tower. I have subsequently had contact with the estate and they had no problem with my featuring the tower. Good luck with your book.

  4. Tony Cleaver says:

    Fascinating as ever!!

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Tony. It’s a superb folly and we were very lucky with the weather in Scotland in November!

  5. Iain Gray says:

    Some years ago Sarah Innes, now of Elie and friendly with the Crawfords, took a Folly Fellowship party on one of her sublime outings and the first folly visited was Balcarres Crag. We all climbed the tower and enjoyed the splendid views. A lovely memory.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Iain. A climb up Balcarres Crag is certainly a great way to start a day of folly adventures. Scotland has so many wonderful landscape ornaments – I am already planning my next trip.

  6. Janet Foster says:

    I have a lovely little watercolour of nearby Kilconquhar that was painted by Walter Buchanan in 1924 as a wedding gift for my grandparents, and stumbled on your blog when looking for more information about the artist. Thank you so much for the post and the lovely photos of the crag; I have happy memories of walking through the Balcarres estate as a child. I’m now on the lookout for a copy of the book, ideally complete with that beautiful dust jacket.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Janet. I’m delighted to learn that you found the website when looking for information on Buchanan. How lovely to have one of his works with such a personal history. I loved visiting the Balcarres estate and hope to return before too long. Good luck finding a copy of the book – it seems quite rare with the lovely dust jacket.

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