A quirky residence
Tower houses several storeys high were the typical residences of the Scottish landed gentry in the late Middle Ages. Scotstarvit is one of them. Yet there is something quirky about it.
There is no kitchen. And one room has no fireplace, while another has no windows – and this in a building overlooking the fertile valleys of the River Eden and Graigrothie Burn.
Six small storeys
The building is L-shaped in layout with a spiral stair in the small wing. Internally there are six floors. The ground floor simply has two narrow window slits, and nothing else. The floor above (now minus its floor) has two fine windows with stone seats, but no fireplace!
The third floor, the finest, has a large fireplace, three fine seated windows and a privy. The fourth floor (also minus its floor) has two seated windows and a small fireplace near one end. It is possible that this room comprised two smaller chambers – an outer and inner chamber for the lord and lady.
The fifth floor has a fireplace but no windows! The sixth floor, giving access to the fine battlements, was the garret. But what a garret it must have been when its ornate classical fireplace was still in position. This fireplace is dated 1627 and bears the initials of Sir John Scot and Dame Anne Drummond. It was removed, probably in 1696, when Scotstarvit was abandoned in favour of a new mansion nearby, Hill of Tarvit.
Home of a mild eccentric
Scotstarvit was originally called Inglis Tarvit, after the Inglis family who built it around 1500. But when Sir John Scot (1585–1670) purchased the estate in 1611, he rebuilt it to the form we now see – and changed its name.
The quirkiness of his revamped tower somehow reflects the character of the man. A respectable Edinburgh lawyer, in his private life Sir John was mildly eccentric. He was a poet, and a patron of the literary arts. He was also fascinated by topography, and was instrumental in getting Joan Blaeu’s Atlas of Scotland
With Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in 1650, Sir John fell from favour. He devoted his last years to writing his memorably titled The Staggering State of the Scots Statesmen
. Thomas Carlyle described the work as ‘a strange little book, not a satire but a homily on life’s nothingness enforced by examples’. Picture Sir John writing it in his garret chamber, in front of his fine 1627 fireplace.
- The six floors – imagine living on those eccentric rooms.
- The battlements – enjoy the fine vista over the surrounding landscape.
- The garret fireplace – now to be seen in the adjacent Hill of Tarvit, a fine Lorimer-designed house, cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.