Lilliesleaf and The Riddell Estate

12th April 2017

Mr RR and I had a lovely ramble around Lilliesleaf and The Riddell Estate last week along with Nancy and Chris.  It was a good day – it stayed dry and there was some blue in the sky, lambs in the fields and a coffee shop called the Jammy Coo at the end!  What more could you want?

Okay – so the sky wasn’t blue at this point…but there are lambs!

We started in the lay-by opposite the church (a very important point according to Nancy and Chris!) in Lilliesleaf, a pretty village in between Melrose and Selkirk. Wikipedia tells us that the current population of Lilliesleaf is 301 – I’m not sure if it really is…..maybe someone’s had a baby since that was written!

Anyway we started by walking across fields to reach Riddell Tower also known as the General’s Tower.  Built in 1885 for Major-General John Sprot, then owner of the Riddell Estate, the tower is surrounded by trees and was apparently designed so that the Major-General could hide himself away and write whilst taking in the views.

This 19th century tower replaced an earlier Norman Fort which was destroyed in around 1540 by the Earl of Hertford, 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, at the same time as he was sacking the local abbeys.

The tower has a remarkable ‘vertiginous’ spiral staircase in one corner apparently leading to a writing room – which even has a fireplace – and to an observation balcony:

It’s as steep and high as it looks here – and no – we didn’t venture upwards, although it is possible for those with a head for heights and a sense of humour!  We stood at the bottom and wondered who had the job of carrying up the coal to light the Major-General’s fire!



Inside is a grand plaque in memory of many deceased Sprots – some very young:



and a small patch of primroses:

I’ve got a new Wild Flower book you know: Sarah Raven’s ‘Wild Flowers’ – love it! It tells me that primroses like north-facing banks and hedgerows and need regular bursts of light to flower. The Medieval Flower Book says that ‘Primrose’ means ‘the first flower of Spring’ from the Italian ‘primavera’  – first – and French ‘primeveize’ – Spring….so that proves it: Spring has come to the Scottish Borders at last!

Importantly, ‘the Perfect Compendium for every Budding Forrager’ otherwise known as Edible Wild Plants and Herbs – another amazing book – tells us that primroses  are less abundant now because of the ‘indiscriminate digging up of the roots’! Although in the days of early medicine they were also plundered for their roots which were dried and made into emetics (a cure for headaches and worms).  The plant was also used to treat insomnia, hysteria, rheumatism and gout.  In the middle ages they were made into desserts and used in salads, candied, pickled and made into vinegar and wine which must have taken tonnes of flowers!

We carry on walking across The Riddell Estate ( ) , the first gift of land in Scotland made to a layman –  Walter de Ryedale – by King David I of Scotland in the 12th century.  Despite the efforts of  Hertford on behalf of King Henry VIII in the 1540’s, the estate remained in the hands of the Ryedale family until 1823 when it was purchased by the Sprots for £65,000 with a fortune made in the City of London.  Soon we come to the site of the original dwelling:

The Mansion House on the Riddell Estate which was originally built in the 16th century and added to in the 17th and 19th centuries, burnt down whilst occupied by the army in 1943.

We stop and perch on some huge abandoned pipes having a cuppa and pondering on what a beautiful house this must once have been with its Juliette balconies and grand facade, standing above the Ale Water Valley with its glorious views:

Mr RR took this photo of the view from the mansion – he says its for a painting – I’ll show you when its done!

It is still beautiful now in a strange way, with the trees twisting their way through the windows – but it must have been a sight to see when it was lit up and decorated for grand parties, with coach and horses making their way along the driveway…

Moving on…we cross some fields and eventually find our way to the current Riddell House, which is also lovely in a country house sort of way – it has grand stables:


…and is surrounded by acres of woodland which were laid out between 1790 and 1820. I’m getting to quite like some of the conifers:


of which there are 274 acres here as well as 37 acres of broadleaf species (see previous blog for lecture on diversification of planting!).

As we walk on through the estate we pass more sheep:


cross Victorian bridges:


follow an old drovers road:


and can look back at views right across to the Eildon Hills:


At one point we pass an ancient (relatively speaking) oil pump which Mr RR found particularly fascinating:



And finally we’re back in Lilliesleaf and can make our way to The Jammy Coo                      ( ) for lovely lemon sponge and a cup of tea!

6.6 miles to add to the total so far: 211 miles.

See you soon! x

4 thoughts on “Lilliesleaf and The Riddell Estate

  1. Gwynn Socolich May 8, 2019 / 2:25 am

    Thank you for your post on the Riddell estate and Lilliesleaf. I am an American descendant of the Riddells and appreciated your lovely photos of your walk.


  2. Thomas R Anderson II February 21, 2021 / 2:04 pm

    Thank you so much for your photographs and descriptions of the Estate and Lilliesleaf. As an American descendant of three (or more) generations of lives spent in Lilliesleaf, I’m trying to return “home” to walk the same streets and fields. This has made me all the more determined!


    • ricketyrambler March 13, 2021 / 8:10 pm

      So glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you get to Lilliesleaf soon – its such a lovely place.


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