Last updated on March 14th, 2020
The Out About Scotland complete guide to Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian
Category: Forest or woodland, Historic building, Nature, Park
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Tour groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 8 out of 10
About Dalkeith Country Park
The historic county of Midlothian seems to be permanently out of favour with visiting tourists – mainly due to the fact that it borders Edinburgh and most sightseers have already got their hands full trying to fit in as many city attractions as possible before hopping on the coach to their next destination.
That, of course, means there are loads of attractions in Midlothian that aren’t constantly besieged by camera-wielding crowds, where only the locals tend to visit and which offer a relatively peaceful family day out.
One of these is a bit of a favourite of mine as it covers all the bases – lovely countryside walks, a decent place to eat, quality shopping and a play park to keep the kids busy – while also being easy to get to and having no entrance fee.
The attraction in question is Dalkeith Country Park, and I reckon it’s definitely worth a look if you ever find yourself in the area and stuck for something to do.
The park is part of the Buccleuch family estate which covers a not-inconsiderable 1000 acres in total, encompassing forestry, farmland, a grand house, a river, a shopping and restaurant complex and an enormous adventure playground.
It’s fair to say if you visit this family-friendly attraction you’re not exactly going to be stuck for things to do.
To get to Dalkeith Country Park drive north through Dalkeith high street on the A6094 to the far end, just before the road turns into a tight 90-degree corner. You can’t really miss it as the spire of St. Mary’s Church can be seen straight ahead behind a fairly large gated entrance surrounded by a thick coppice of woodland.
From this point you can park up in a small parking area that has space for around 20 cars and walk into the estate, or drive through the grounds to the old laundry house which has parking for another 40-ish vehicles.
If you park at the laundry house you’ll pretty much be in the centre of the main attractions with the Restoration Yard shopping area to one side, the adventure play park dead ahead and Dalkeith Palace behind, all surrounded by woodland, farmland and crisscrossed by a spiders web of paths and single-track roads.
Entrance to the park is free and there are plenty of spaces to sit down with a picnic which makes a visit there a potentially very cheap day out, but if you’ve got children you’re going to have to open your wallet for the Fort Douglas play park (though it’s not a bad price for a couple of hours peace and quiet).
The playpark is very well equipped, the cafe is first-class with a delicious assortment of locally-sourced food, and the shops are well worth a browse with an eclectic mix of quality Scottish goods, so you could quite easily spend all your time in this one area of the estate.
But for me, a visit to Dalkeith Country Park is all about the outdoor space and with huge open lawn areas, riverside walks, cycle routes and woodland trails I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be in Midlothian on a warm summer day.
Things to do at Dalkeith Country Park
While your first instinct after arriving might be to make a beeline for Dalkeith Palace I’m afraid you’ll have to content yourself with looking at it from the outside as it’s (unfortunately) off-limits to the general public.
This is a real shame as it’s a stunning building and I can only imagine how grand it must be inside, but it’s currently used by an American university so other than taking a few photos there’s not much you can do there.
The lawn in front of the palace is totally open for use though and makes a great space for a picnic spot, while the tarmacked roads running through it offer accessible paths into the countryside that anyone can enjoy, whether on two feet or pushing a pram or wheelchair.
Following the narrow road north takes you to the River Esk and onwards into the estate’s farmland, or you can herd the kids into Fort Douglas and settle back with a cuppa at Restoration Yard.
This retail space features wee boutiques that sell a range of men’s and women’s clothes along with books, games, homeware and furniture, so if you’re looking for a gift you’re bound to find something suitable inside.
Across the courtyard you’ll find a selection of workshops aimed at bringing a little peace into your life where you can enhance your wellbeing with yoga, pilates and lifestyle coaching, while bellies can be filled in the adjoining restaurant.
Fort Douglas, meanwhile, is situated behind Restoration Yard on the other side of the River Esk. A bridge allows access to a collection of treehouses, tunnels, climbing walls and suspension bridges that are divided into two play zones – one for toddlers and the other for ages five and up.
As it’s quite a new attraction the equipment is in tip-top condition and from what I’ve seen it’s very sturdy so there shouldn’t be any problem letting children go wild in there.
If you’d rather not leave them unattended you’re allowed to join in the fun – but I’m afraid your four-legged friends will have to wait outside while you’re clambering around in the treehouse.
Elsewhere on the site you’ll find the remarkable 12-sided Orangerie that has been renovated from years of neglect into an atmospheric wedding venue and the Montagu Bridge that was created by the celebrated Scottish architect Robert Adam in 1792.
The last big draw for Dalkeith Country Park are the walking routes and you’ll find several waymarked paths in the estate ranging from an easy 20-minute ramble to a decent two-hour hike through farmland and woodland.
The longer walk is highly recommended as it offers 8km of unspoilt countryside where there’s a good chance you’ll see a collection of wildlife including roe deer, otters, squirrels, foxes and buzzards.
It’s a really relaxing place to be, and coupled with an ice-cream from the coffee shop at the end makes for a very enjoyable family day out.
The history of Dalkeith Country Park
The parkland has been owned by the Buccleuch family for over 300 years and is still managed by the Duke of Buccleuch to this day, though it can actually trace its roots all the way back to Roman times.
In fact, the woodlands are so old they’ve been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and some of the trees are over 900 years old! That’s pretty incredible considering so much of the area surrounding Edinburgh has been torn up recently to accommodate farmland and housing.
But it’s not just the parkland that’s old as Dalkeith Palace has a lot of history too. While it’s not officially a palace it’s still a stunning building and takes the accolade of being one of the finest early classical houses in Scotland thanks to renowned architect James Smith who designed it to replicate the Dutch palace Het Loo.
The palace was completed in 1711 and was sited to replace a much earlier medieval fortification, with additional buildings like the Orangerie, the bridges and the laundry house added over the course of the next 100 years.
What I liked about this attraction
- The trails are great. Long enough for a decent walk but also paved so they’re easy to access.
- Restoration Yard has an excellent selection of shops.
- Fort Douglas is big enough to keep kids occupied for an hour or two.
My top tips
- Even though most of the walks are paved I’d wear boots in winter as some sections get very muddy.
- If you’re a frequent visitor to Fort Douglas you can join their loyalty programme and earn points to spend in the cafe.
- Enjoy fishing? Permits are available from the Fort Douglas kiosk that permit fly fishing on the River Esk.
Photos and video
Address and map
Dalkeith Country Park,
Via King’s Gate,
Click the map for directions
Tickets and opening times
Dalkeith Country Park is free to visit.
For entrance prices to Fort Douglas visit the Dalkeith Country Park website.
Open seven days a week.
|Dalkeith Country Park:||7am – 7pm.|
|Restoration Yard Store & Coffee Bar:||9.30am – 6pm.|
|The Kitchen:||9.30am – 4.30pm weekdays, 5pm weekends.|
|Fort Douglas:||10am – 4pm.|
|The Larder:||10am – 4pm, weekends only.|
Telephone: +44(0)131 654 1666
Website: Dalkeith Country Park
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Car park on-site.
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access.
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant/cafe, Snacks, Toilets.