Balcaskie is a 17th-century country house 2 km north of St Monans, and is notable chiefly as the home and early work of architect Sir William Bruce.
The original Balcaskie House was built shortly before 1629, as the home of the Moncrieffs of Balcaskie, and was a traditional L-plan fortified house of three storeys and attic.
In 1665 the estate was bought by William Bruce, who began enlarging the house for his own use, between 1668 and 1674. In 1668 he acquired a baronetcy in Nova Scotia and became Sir William Bruce.
Bruce planned the new house himself and employed John Hamilton as mason, and Andrew Waddell as wright (carpenter). The house was expanded from the L-plan to an almost symmetrical U-plan, with the original building at the west end. The north front was given matching crow-step gables, with a balustraded two-storey central section. In addition, Bruce added tall corner towers to each angle. These had French-inspired details such as rusticated quoins. Bruce may have built the curving wing-walls and pavilions to the north front, however, these have also been attributed to a later building phase.
The estate was sold in 1684 to Sir Thomas Steuart, when Bruce moved to his new home at Kinross House. In 1698 it changed hands again, becoming the property of Sir Robert Anstruther, whose son Philip undertook works in the mid-18th century, including heightening the central block. It was now that the wing walls and pavilions were added, according to John Gifford. Further alterations were made by William Burn in 1830-32, including a porch and new windows, and a stable block. In 1856-58 David Bryce, an Edinburgh architect, worked on Balcaskie, adding several baronial features.
The gardens, to the south of the house, were laid out by William Bruce and are aligned to face the Bass Rock, on the opposite side of the Forth estuary.
The terraces and vista are inspired by French Baroque gardens, such as Vaux-le-Vicomte. The gardens were altered in the 18th century, and restored in 1826-7 by William Burn and William Sawrey Gilpin. Sir Walter Scott visited the gardens in 1827 and described the house as 'much dilapidated' but praised the restoration of the gardens.
Parterres were laid out in the 1840s by W. A. Nesfield.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.