A wonderful ancient woodland in the grounds of an historic college

Lord Ancrum’s Wood

Wander the grounds of Lord Ancrum's Wood

Trees have been growing on the banks of the South Esk river for thousands of years, leaving us with a rich environment that’s full of wildlife. Visit in spring and smell the drifts of wild garlic, watch for nuthatches clinging to the tree trunks, or enjoy the stark shapes of the fine old trees in winter. Next door stands Newbattle Abbey College, a pioneer in adult education and the site of a once-powerful monastery.

There’s a network of good paths to explore, mostly gravel-surfaced with short steep slopes.

Parking Walking

Car parking

There is a small car park for visitors near the entrance to the college, to enter turn left towards the business park after entering the gates.

Life’s essentials

There are places to eat in many of the surrounding villages. The nearest public toilets are in Dalkeith.

Walking trails

Cycling trails

Mountain biking trails

Marquises and monks

‘Lord Ancrum’ was one of the titles held by the Kerr family, Marquises of Lothian, who once owned this land. They built a stately home on the site of Newbattle Abbey, a large monastery that was founded here in 1140 and grew rich on the profits from early coal mining.

Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquis, gave the house to the nation in 1937 so it could be used as a college: Newbattle Abbey College has been offering courses to adults who want to return to education ever since. Some of Scotland’s best-loved writers, like Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown, studied here: and perhaps they even found inspiration in these very woods. We manage Lord Ancrum’s Wood in partnership with the College.

The monks and the Marquis are long gone, but they’ve left fascinating traces of their times. Enter the wood across the bridge from the college grounds and you’ll see a magnificent carved gateway: it was probably taken from the Kerr’s grand house when they altered it in the 1600s. Behind the gateway is an ice house, where ice was stored in the days before fridges. And hidden among the trees there’s an intriguing cavern known as ‘the priest hole’: it might have been a hiding place in the bitter struggles between the Covenanters and the established church.

Thinning works

The recent thinning works at Lord Ancrum’s wood have been in development for the past three years. Works began after consultations with statutory bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB as well as with local councils and the public.

This thinning work took place as part of the ongoing management of the forest which dates back centuries. If nothing is done in long managed woodlands they often go into decline with none-native species such as rhododendron taking over and the loss of veteran trees which are not replaced. By carefully selecting which trees to remove, more light will reach the forest floor and result in natural regeneration of both trees and other ground vegetation. The thinning works in Lord Ancrum’s Wood have also been carefully planned to open up denser parts of the woods, to create better views and a more open feel along pathways. The trees which aren't felled will thrive with the increased space and produce much higher quality timber.

We carried out the work during winter and spring to ensure minimal ground damage, low impact on nesting birds, little impact on public access for safety and a high quality timber yield. We use several measures to protect wildlife in the woods. Before any felling takes place there is walk through of the site to identify any new conservation issues. Operators and site managers are briefed to check trees for bird nests and other protected features before felling, and if found the tree will not be removed. A bat specialist will also inspect every tree likely to have bats and these trees will not be felled.

Contact: Forest Enterprise Scotland

Address: Five Sisters House, Five Sisters Business Park, West Calder

Postcode: EH55 8PN

Telephone: 0300 067 6700


How to get here

Lord Ancrum’s Wood is next to Newbattle Abbey College, about 7 miles (11.3 km) south of Edinburgh on the B703 between Eskbank and Newtongrange. A bridge leads into the wood from the college grounds. The entrance to the college is at grid reference NT 331 658.

Using SatNav?

EH22 3LL is the nearest postcode.

Public transport

Bus service X95 from Edinburgh stops outside college. Check Traveline Scotland for details.

Nearby places

You’ll find another peaceful woodland at Selm Muir, near Livingston. For thrilling mountain biking and tree-top adventures, as well as superb walking trails, try Glentress Forest, near Peebles.

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For questions and complaints, please contact us directly.