The House of the Binns, or simply the Binns, is a historic house in West Lothian, Scotland, the seat of the Dalyell family (pronounced dee el). It dates from the early 17th century, and is currently the home of Sir Thomas "Tam" Dalyell. The estate is situated on two hills (bens in Celtic) from which its name is derived. It is set in 200 acres (0.81 km2) of parkland, and the house enjoys panoramic views of central Scotland: to the north, across the River Forth to the Highlands, and south over the Pentland Hills. The house contains a collection of porcelain, furniture, and portraits tracing the family's lives and interests through the centuries.
Perhaps inhabited since prehistoric times, Binns Hill may have been the site of a Pictish fort. Written records begin in 1335, and record a land of the "Bynnis". There was certainly a manor house here by 1478, when records indicate the owner was an Archibald Meldrum, son of the late James Meldrum of the Bynnis. In 1599, it was owned by James Lord Lyndsay, who sold it to Sir William Livingston of Kilsyth. In 1612 the estate was purchased by a wealthy and well-connected Edinburgh burgess, Thomas Dalyell. Dalyell was a butter merchant, who had become prosperous importing butter from Orkney to Leith (to be sold as axle grease). In 1601, he had married the daughter of Edward Lord Kinloss and, when the Scots King James VI ascended to the English throne and Kinloss was made his Master of the Rolls in London, Dalyell obtained the lucrative post of deputy. In that senior position, he acquired enough of a fortune to return to Scotland and join the landed gentry. He bought "the lands of Bynnis and Croceflattis wirth the manor place thereof", and the Dalyell family have lived there ever since. Between 1621 and 1630, this Thomas Dalyell rebuilt the original house, and parts of the interior still reflect that period; in particular the north-west portion of the present entrance front, and decoration of the High Hall and King's Room (created in the hope of a visit from Charles I, which never came to be). These rooms still contain examples of some of the earliest cornices and mouldings in Scotland. Thomas Dalyell's more famous son, the Royalist General Sir Tam Dalyell continued the development of the house, adding the first of the towers, and the western range.
The house's main historic claim to fame is the occupancy of General Sir Tam Dalyell (1615–1685). Dalyell served as a military commander for both Charles I and Charles II. During the Civil War, he was taken prisoner by the parliamentarians at the battle of Worcester and imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, he escaped and travelled to Russia where he fought for the Tsar — earning the epithet "Muscovite De'il". He returned to Scotland at the Restoration of the king, and secured his feared reputation (as "Bluidy Tam") by his violent suppression of the Covenanters from the 1660s. In 1678, he became Commander-in-Chief in Scotland and, in 1681, he mustered a new regiment at the Binns, becoming its first colonel. That Regiment, the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons, which later became the Royal Scots Greys in 1877, was to have itself a long history. Many artefacts belonging to General Dalyell (including his boots) are still located at the Binns. Some are connected with the fairly dubious stories that have grown up around him. In this house, the General is said to have played cards with the Devil: and today, in the entrance (or Laigh) hall, the very table on which he is supposed to have played can still be seen. The story goes that, although the devil normally beat Tam, one night Tam won, and in fury the Devil threw a marble table at him. However, it missed and it landed in the Sergeants' Pond outside. A marble table was indeed found when the pond dried up 200 years later. The cards, goblet and spoon, supposedly used in the game are displayed in the house. The General is said to have told the Devil, who threatened to blow down his house and its walls, that "I will build me a turret at every corner to pin down my walls".
The house is set in 200 acres of parkland, and approached by two drives: the current west drive, and main east drive that has been disused since 1913. The category "B" listed folly, Binns Tower, is situated at the highest point of the park, Binns Hill. It was designed by Alexander Allan in 1826, allegedly as the result of a wager placed with the then owner, Sir James Dalyell. On the west side of Binns Hill is a woodland garden with walks through it to the tower. Beneath the escarpment to the south-west of the Tower is General Tam's cave, supposedly used by him for meditation. In addition to the folly, the park contains a number of other important features. Off the west drive is a derelict stables and a walled garden. The walled garden, constructed at an unknown date, served as a kitchen garden until World War II. It is presently used by a contractor as a tree and shrub nursery - although part is used to provide flowers for the house. Also near the west drive is the Sergeant's Pond, which was constructed as a watering place for the horses of the Royal Scots Greys by General Dalyell. In a valley in the south-east corner of the park there is a caravan park which was established in 1978 — the caravan park also includes a small woodland area.
Disabled parking is available at the main door by arrangement. Of the 10 rooms shown on the tour, 8 are on the ground floor and easily accessible to wheelchairs. There is an ‘armchair visit’ and photograph album of the upper floors. The Toliet is accessible for wheelchairs. Braille information sheets are available. There is a file of information on the history of the property. All tours are guided. Explanatory text: Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : House Of The Binns, Linlithgow, Edinburgh & The Lothians, EH49 7NA
Transport: Linlithgow (National Rail) then bus (F49). Bus Routes : 31 and F49 stop 1 mile.
Opening Times: 1 June to 30 September, Saturday - Wednesday, 14:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £10.50; Concessions / Children £7.50
Tel. : 01506 834255