Pilrig House-A Historical Gem in the City of Edinburgh

Hello, my friends. A very happy new year to you. I hope your 2019 has gotten off to a great start!

Today I would like to take you to a place in Scotland that is extra special to me. I know, I know…you think I always say that. Haha, you know me too well, dear reader. And it’s true, I suppose. But this place really does put a skip in my plaid heart.

Isn’t it lovely? This is Pilrig House, a historic Scottish townhouse located in Edinburgh, next to the burgh of Leith. It is believed that the name ‘Pilrig’ may have derived from the former ‘Peilrig’ and ‘Pellryge’ (rig=ridge), where a peel tower stood in the 15thcentury. According to pilrighouse.com, “stonework in the basement walls suggests the remains of a peel tower”. For a newby history geek like me, that is fascinating.

Pilrig House is situated on the edge of Pilrig Park.

A lady with her black dog in Pilrig Park.
A gate and Pilrig Park.

Though it lies amid the hustle and bustle of the city, you would never believe it. With the home’s immaculate gardens and the expanse of the park, you feel as if you could be lodging in the quiet of the Scottish countryside. Mr. C and I have had the pleasure of staying at Pilrig House twice (more on that in a bit).

Garden area of Pilrig House.
A window seat in Pilrig House that looks over Pilrig Park.

Pilrig House was once likely the country home of Mary of Gueldres (c.1434-1463), the Queen Consort of Scotland as the wife of King James II. How posh! In the 16th century, Pilrig House was owned by the fabulously named Sir Patrick Monypenny, Baron of Brochton. By 1560, the tower was being used as a field gun battery during the Seige of Leith. (Oh, don’t you worry, my friend. This nerd has already jotted that down as a future topic.)

In 1638, Gilbert Kirkwood purchased the estate and rebuilt the house as a gift to his bride, Margaret Foulis. The house as it looks today is the product of his vision.

The plaque on the outside of Pilrig House.

But perhaps the most compelling facet in the history of Pilrig House is its connection to one of Scotland’s great literary sons. In 1718, Pilrig House was purchased by the ancestors of Margaret Isabella Balfour, mother of the one and only Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson – a.k.a., Robert Louis Stevenson.

Photo of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Photo of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such works as Treasure Island and Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Photo: Public Domain

Margaret grew up at Pilrig House, and the esteemed RLS played there as a child. He referred to the house in his novel Catriona. According to pilrighouse.com, the house “may also have been the inspiration for the ‘House of Shaws’ in Kidnapped.” The home remained with the Balfour family until around the time of WWII, and then went into the care of the Edinburgh Council.

“I came in view of Pilrig, a pleasant gabled house set by the walkside among some brave young woods.” -from Catriona, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sadly, a fire destroyed the home’s interior in the early 1970s, but thanks to an extensive restoration project in the early 1980s, the interior was rebuilt into a six-apartment configuration.

Pilrig House on the edge of green Pilrig Park.

Pilrig House is an excellent home-base for a trip to Edinburgh. It sits within walking distance of Edinburgh City Center as well as Leith. If one would rather take public transportation, a city bus can be caught just outside of the park. 

Pilrig House.

Mr. C and I have spent a combined total of thirty nights at Pilrig House. I would be lying if I said it didn’t set the bar for every other place we will ever stay! Sparkling clean, quiet, cozy, and set up with every single amenity you could think of, Pilrig House is a gem among gems. I feel so thankful for the time we have spent there.

Have a terrific week. See ya again soon!


Update 8/10/21…Unfortunately, it appears that the Pilrig House apartments are no longer available to rent. Still a neat house to see, though, even if only from the outside!

17 thoughts on “Pilrig House-A Historical Gem in the City of Edinburgh

    • Yes, we were last there in March, 2017. The first time we stayed at PH, we stayed in the Balfour Apt. It’s gorgeous. Then in 2017, we stayed in the Park Apt. Unfortunately, that one is no longer available as a self-catering. The other apartment is the Garden. We haven’t tried that one yet but the pictures online look lovely. Where are you guys going to stay when you visit in Jan?

  • Beautiful! I could do that as a home away from home.
    But tell me, Wendy…thirty days!…are you and Mr. C never home? I’m curious, if you care to share, how much time do you spend in Scotland? Is it vacation, business, study? A nosy reader wouldn’t mind knowing…but I respect privacy. 😉

    • Lol, it’s okay, I don’t mind answering. We travel there for pleasure. We’re just extremely blessed that when we do go, that we are able to stay for a full two weeks + at a time. That gives us lots of time to fully immerse ourselves. We’ll be heading back this Spring for another two weeks and will be staying outside of Inverness. Not having children definitely gives us more flexibility to travel. 🙂

      • Sounds great!
        Speaking of outside Inverness…in ‘97 we stayed at Kilravock Castle, sadly no longer open to the public. We stayed in a room in the keep which was built in 1460. A truly transporting experience.

  • My ancestor worked for the Balfour family as gardener and lived in the lodge. Have visited but not stayed there. Architectural style is attractive too.

    • What a wonderful connection you have to such an interesting place. I would have loved to have seen the property all those many years ago. Even today, the gardens are lovely.

    • What is your ancestors name? Doing my own ancestry research. I’m one of 13, 7th great-grandchildren of James Balfour I of Pilrig.

  • They are lovely and probably more extensive, am guessing he’d have to grow vegetables for the Balfour family too. Stevenson wrote a little poem/ditty about a gardener and wonder if it could have been my George LOL “ The gardener does not love to talk. He makes me keep the gravel walk; And when he puts his tools away, He locks the door and takes the key. Away behind the currant row, Where no one else but cook may go, Far in the plots, I see him dig, Old and serious, brown and big.”

    • I just looked for that poem in my pocket edition of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” (1916), and strangely, the ribbon was marking that very title! There are three other stanzas in the poem as well. “He digs the flowers, green, red, and blue, Nor wishes to be spoken to. He digs the flowers and cuts the hay, And never seems to want to play. Silly gardner! summer goes, And winter comes with pinching toes, When in the garden bare and brown, You must lay your barrow down. Well now, and while the summer stays, To profit by these garden days, O how much wiser you would be, To play at Indian wars with me!” What a fun thought to think this could have been written about your ancestor. 🙂

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