In the days when Scotland was occupied by grand families who operated estate properties which employed local people from nearby villages and towns to work on their estate properties, the 'big hoose' became a focus for community life. While some of these estates remain active and operational (and, often, still family owned) others have passed into the care of heritage bodies like the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland. Many remain publicly accessible, or have grounds and parks that can be visited either for free or for a small charge.
Here's my brief guide to a handful of these 'big hooses' that can be visited from Edinburgh...
Built as Whitehill House in the 1680s by the architect James Smith as his own private residence, Newhailes is an early example of the Palladian style which became so popular in Britain in the late 17th- and early 18th-centuries, a style pioneered by Smith who 'imported' it from Italy where he had studied under Andrea Palladio himself.
Smith had to sell the house barely a decade after it was built to ease financial troubles he had acquired by investing in failed mining operations, and the property and its estate passed into ownership of the Dalrymple family, baronets of Hailes.
The brother of Newhailes' first owner notoriously gave the order which let to the infamous Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, while later members of the family would entertain figures such as Adam Smith, David Hume, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at Newhailes.
When Sir Mark Dalrymple, the 3rd Baronet of Hailes, died without having produced children in 1971 the house began to fall into disrepair, before being finally vacated in 1980. Dalrymple's widow lived in a cottage on the estate until 2011, and her death in 2017 represented the end of the Dalrymple family line.
The National Trust for Scotland has overseen the maintenance and care for Newhailes House since 1997, and today the estate remains popular with local walkers and with a cafe in the property's former stable block - partly designed by James Craig, who created the plans for Edinburgh's New Town - providing lunches and snacks to those who stop by to explore the grounds.
Another James Smith property, Cockenzie House is at the heart of the village of Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian.
Operated now as a community centre with a variety of studios for local artists, therapists and jewellers, the building is set in its original gardens and has a popular cafe and studio shop, as well as hosting antiques fairs and a variety of community events all year round.
Following the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 - the first skirmish of the '45 Jacobite Uprising - Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops retired victorious to Cockenzie House, where they fed from fruit trees in the grounds. Later the house hosted artists such as JMW Turner and Sir Walter Scott as guests of the Caddell family who owned the property.
In the gardens of Cockenzie House, look out for the fruit trees which fed those early Jacobites, as well as a characteristic grotto built from pumice, the stone used as ballast which was discarded by ships sailing into and out of the nearby port on early trade excursions to northern Europe and Iceland.
The hecla grotto - its name is spelled out in stone at the front of the structure - was a 19th-century folly with whale bones forming its doorway. Remains of its original ornate decorations, using shells and stones from the local beaches, can still be seen inside the building.
A rare example of an estate which has fallen entirely to ruin, Cammo is a suburb to the north-west of Edinburgh with grounds accessible to local people and visitors. The house itself, another late 17th-century family home, fell victim to vandals in the 1970s, and the area today is maintained by the City of Edinburgh Council.
Only a few collections of stonework and the original doorway of Cammo House survive, although the grounds continue to show evidence of the former status of the property, with an ornamental canal, a pinetum (a collection of rare trees), a walled orangery and a derelict carriage house all suggesting the grandeur the property would have had at its height.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson visited the area frequently, and is believed to have used Cammo House as the model for the House of Shaws in his novel Kidnapped.
Another local property easily accessible from the city centre is Prestonfield House, dating from 1687 and operating today as a boutique hotel, restaurant and wedding venue.
Set within its own grounds to the south-east of Arthur's Seat, Prestonfield was originally site of a 12th century monastery and later a house named Priestfield, which was destroyed by fire in the 1680s. The new building built to replace Priestfield changed its name to distance itself from its Catholic connections.
As the home of the wealthy Dick family in the 18th and 19th centuries, the estate at Prestonfield becamea high society venue which attracted guests such as David Hume, Benjamin Franklin and (a recurring name on Scotland's visitor records) Samuel Johnson.
The house was also the first place in the UK to cultivate rhubarb, and that vegetable gives its name to the restaurant in the house today.
The interior of Presonfield is a reason in itself to visit for dinner or afternoon tea, with rooms styled in a variety of ornate styles creating a unique and sumptuous setting.
In the grounds, look out for the estate's peacocks who roam freely, and the circular stable block which has been adapted to hosted lavish weddings and other special events.
A short distance from Edinburgh is Vogrie House, a 19th century estate property built in the typical Scots Baronial architectural style, which originally accommodated the Dewar family.
A cafe provides refreshments, and a play park and indoor soft play area for children can help keep younger members of the family engaged.
Although the building is not accessible to the public, the grounds of Vogrie Country Park are spacious and spectacular, with a number of pieces of art dotted through the woods and lawns of the former estate. Look out for two huge, brightly coloured chairs, and a giant's tricyle!
Sometimes known as Dalkeith Palace, today the Dalkeith Country Park provides access to the grounds of this grand estate property. There had been a castle or fortified house on this site since medieval times, but the current house was another of James Smith's constructions from the early years of the 18th century.
The house has several royal connections, having provided accommodation a number of monarchs over the years, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, George IV during his historic visit to Scotland in 1822, Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V.
During the Second World War the property accommodated Polish soldiers who used the grounds for military training and practice.
Today, although the estate remains active as farmland, much of its grounds are accessible for walkers, with a cafe and artisan gift shops in the former stable block and with an extensive children's play area.
Look out for a huge folly which is currently undergoing renovation.
Another estate property which retains its family ownership is Gosford House in East Lothian. Built at the end of the 18th century to plans by Robert Adam, who also styled Edinburgh's New Town, the property has a distinctive neoclassical style and sprawling grounds which continue to provide space for visitors to explore.
The estate's ponds and woodlands offer a real sense of escape from the routines of daily life.
Used as a filming location for the Outlander television series, Gosford stood in for the Palace of Versailles - an indication of its sense of status and style!
The original owner of the property, the 7th Earl of Wemyss, was Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and after his death he was buried in the grounds of Gosford House in a huge mausoleum styled as a pyramid, referencing several ancient masonic traditions.
The estate also has a rare example of a curling house, effectively a pavilion for the popular Scottish sport of curling, which would have been played on the estate's frozen lakes during the winter months.
Gosford House is open to visitors in the summer, with grounds accessible through the rest of the year (subject to the family's permitting access).
Explore more of Edinburgh's high status history with a tour exploring the Georgian-era New Town!
Enjoy the blog but can't take a tour?
Show your support and
buy me a coffee!