Further downstream is Melville Castle, a castellated mansion designed by the famous architect James Playfair and built in 1786 on the site of the old castle for Henry Dundas, the first Lord Melville, once known as ‘Scotland’s uncrowned king’. Lord Melville planted specimens of all the trees native to Britain on the estate. Walter Scott was inspired to write of Melville’s beechy grove, sadly no longer there. In the 1980s, the castle suffered from neglect but open to the weather and with floors collapsing, it was saved from ruin and opened as a popular hotel in 2003, still in a beautiful wooded setting. Melville was often visited by Mary, Queen of Scots and during one of her visits in the 1560s, David Rizzio, her secretary and companion, is said to have planted a sweet chestnut tree near the banks of the river as a token of his love for her. The trunk of the tree now has a huge girth of 7.63 metres (25 feet).
Melville High Drive is in the grounds of Melville Castle. The pathway is shown on General Roy’s map of 1755 as a ride in a designed landscape leading to a folly at the western end. In view of its unusual alignment in relation to the castle, it is likely that the Drive follows the line of a pre-existing route. Melville High Drive and the folly are shown just below the page break on General Roy’s 1755 map (link below). The Lasswade bridge crosses the North Esk in the lower left of the map. Remarkably, this pre-existing route may have been a 2,000-year-old road linking the Roman Fort at Elginhaugh with the Roman road on the eastern flank of the Pentlands! Later, Melville High Drive is depicted as a routeway on old maps in 1852 linking two main roads leading into Edinburgh, namely the predecessors of the A 768 and B 6392 (Melville High Drive 1852 Map link below). More recently, access to the route has been disputed. Locked gates and privacy notices were erected on part of the route in 1996/97, while Midlothian Council had confirmed its status as a Right of Way in a letter to the Lasswade and District Civic Society in October, 1995. Scotways took up the case in 2009 and have since asked the Council to deal with the problem. In 2012 the consultant’s report on the Esk Valley Way examined this history and suggested the North Esk Way should follow the line of Melville High Drive (Wood-Gee, 2012). It would be nice to reopen a 2,000-year-old walkway one day. In the meantime, the Esk Valley Trust has suggested a possible diversion via Melville Golf Course when walking between Lasswade and Eskbank (shown in Download “Walk the North Esk Way – Lasswade to Dalkeith” and bottom of this page).
The route of the diverted A7 now passes near to Melville Castle, the huge modern bridge over the river is so high above that you can hardly see it from the water’s edge. Just a little downstream is Elginhaugh Mill, a flour mill owned by Mr Gray about 100 years ago. The site of a Roman Fort is also nearby, one of several marching camps in the area, situated to protect the crossing place of the Roman Road over the North Esk
The Glenesk Viaduct which carried the first railway line in Midlothian, opened in 1831 connecting Dalkeith with Edinburgh. The first trains were horse-drawn and because of the idyllic setting and excellent safety record, Dr Robert Chambers, writer and publisher, was inspired to refer to the ‘innocence of the railway’ giving it the name of the ‘Innocent Railway‘. One interesting byelaw forbade drivers from allowing their horses to graze whilst pulling trains. The viaduct was recently restored and formed part of the railway walk which started in Penicuik and followed the track to Sheriffhall. Unfortunately the construction of the Borders Railway has now obliterated parts of these beautiful walks.
Close to the viaduct is the weir which harnessed the water to provide power for the industries in Ironmills Park. An iron foundry was established there in 1648 manufacturing a range of products – iron bars, sheet iron, tools, iron clogs for the colliery workers, and gates and railings for the Duke of Buccleuch. The mill was converted into a corn mill and later still, served as an engine house to pump water to the water tower from a new bore in the park, the pipe crossing the river on the Memorial Bridge, a new footbridge built in 1913. The octagonal Water Tower was built by the Town Council in 1879 to provide a clean supply of water to Eskbank and this wonderful example of Victorian industrial architecture is now a private house. Further downstream are the old flour mill buildings in Grannies Park, a corruption of Grains Park.
The Esk Valley Trust have produced a leaflet showing walking routes between Lasswade and Dalkeith.