The word ‘Dalkeith’ may be of Celtic origin, compounded of Dal, a dale, and Caeth, confined, perhaps describing its peninsular character of lying between the two rivers, the North Esk and the South Esk, which meet downstream in Dalkeith Country Park, at Waters’ Meet. Some kind of settlement existed before the 12th century but it was in 1369 that Sir James Douglas became first Lord of Dalkeith. He built the chapel which formed the nucleus of what became St Nicholas Church. A later James Douglas of different disposition built Dalkeith Palace in the 1570s and he played a part in the murder of Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, an act for which he was beheaded some years later.
Watch the Video (extract from ‘The North Esk River, From Source to Sea’)
The Palace, originally a 12th century castle, was completely reconstructed in the early 1700s by James Smith for Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch. The principal home of the Buccleuch family until the First World War, the Palace is now a study centre for the University of Wisconsin. Crossing the North Esk is the lofty Montague Bridge. Designed by Robert Adam and built in 1792, it is named after Lady Elizabeth Montague who married Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. At one time the bridge was more ornate, but the two stags which supported the Buccleuch arms, frightened the horses crossing the bridge so much, they had to be removed.
The beautiful twelve-sided conservatory, designed by William Burn, was built in 1832. The 18th century Laundry House now provides offices for The Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust (formerly known as The Edinburgh Green Belt Trust) and Scottish Natural Heritage. The nearby Laundry Bridge, designed by William Adam in 1740, crosses the South Esk. The grounds have been open to the public since 1975 as Dalkeith Country Park, with walks and an adventure play area, the stables, designed by William Adam in 1740 with the Watch Tower added by William Burn 100 years later, providing another visitor attraction and offices for the park rangers.
A large group of veteran oak trees, thought to date from the 16th century – some maybe even from the 14th – present a rare landscape feature in what used to be the deer park. They have huge, multi-stemmed trunks, suggesting that they have been coppiced at some time in the long distant past, the largest bases reaching almost 10 metres (33 feet) in girth. The Dalkeith Oak Wood is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The 5 kilometre Dalkeith Bypass was opened in 2008 between the A68 at Fordel Mains and the A720 Edinburgh City Bypass, cutting across Dalkeith Country Park. A bridge has been built to carry the new carriageway over farm roads and the river just downstream from Waters’ Meet and other bridges have been built to carry farm and local traffic over the new road. A group of EVT members had a guided walk through the park in June 2009.
Midlothian Council has produced a series of leaflets of maps and information on Walks in Midlothian.