Photograph of the unrestored stables block from the courtyard

The Stables

Cambo Stables Restoration Project

“Our aim at Cambo is not only to enhance the visitor’s experience with arts activities but also to ‘turn the clock back’ on the estate and recreate the opportunities that would have been available to local people in the community 100 years ago, providing training, apprenticeships and supported employment.

The Cambo Stables Project will create an education and visitor hub with the facilities to expand current activities, safeguard public access and involvement for the future and provide an income to ensure its sustainable future.” Sir Peter Erskine, Chairman of Trustees

This phase of the Cambo Stables Project is primarily concerned with the repair and conservation of the Stables and Glasshouses within The Walled Garden to provide a visitor hub, a focus for students and volunteers and enhanced learning facilities. They lie at the very heart of the designed landscape of Cambo Estate. Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Designed Landscapes notes that, “Cambo is a prime example of a picturesque, model estate sensitively designed”. It has been in the Erskine family for 300 years and the surviving historical records add high historical and cultural value to the site.

With the exception of Cambo House, which was built in 1879-84 after a fire largely destroyed the earlier house, all the buildings within the designed landscape date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the majority are listed Category B. Thomas Erskine, 9th Earl of Kellie, had extended the original house from 1795, and the majority of the ancillary buildings appear to date from this time and share some stylistic similarities.

The Stables Building, later extended to include carriage houses and accommodation for associated staff, is particularly fine. Externally there are rusticated quoins, and some old lime harling, and inside twelve stalls integrated into a distinguished timber and cast-iron colonnade, loose boxes and tack room, with many original fittings intact. An enclosed yard to the rear backs onto the walled garden. This building is not used and is in need of urgent restoration if it is to survive.

The Walled Garden - Rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Historic Scotland, the 2.5 acre traditional walled kitchen garden retains many original features. The range of 5 glasshouses includes a very fine peach and vine house with the original vine still growing. A most unusual greenhouse spans the burn which bisects the garden – it is also most unusual to have a walled garden with a burn running through. The presence of the burn has been emphasised with a ‘Willow pattern’ effect of hump backed bridge, tea house and weeping willow sited beside a small waterfall.

The gardens, which regularly feature in national and international publications, are considered to be amongst the most exciting and innovative gardens in Scotland and are open to the public daily throughout the year. Two of the unusual group of six early 19th century cast-iron bridges (in varying states of completeness) which span the burn are in the walled garden.

The Coach House - This is a typical late 18th / early 19th century improvement cart shed and granary type building, and although now known as the Coach House, was probably used for work-a-day vehicles in conjunction with the nearby stables and carriage house proper. This building is no longer in use and is in need of restoration if it is to survive. Repair, conservation and adaptation to provide accommodation for students and volunteers is planned as a subsequent phase of work.

The plan for the adaptive re-use of these buildings for the work of Cambo Institute is part of a long term plan to restore all elements of the designed landscape at Cambo and provide interpretation on this for visitors.

The Visitor Experience

Visitors to Cambo often comment that it is like ‘living history’. They relish the heritage, family involvement, and feeling of continuity created by the steady improvements and development over the past 35 years. Cambo is now important to so many people and has the potential to be an exciting and vibrant opportunity for many more people to share in the heritage of a carefully stewarded, ever-evolving estate.

The Stables will provide a ‘learning loft’ for larger groups and school groups and allow for more talks, learning events and courses to take place. The demand already exists at present and exceeds what Cambo Institute is able to supply. The only restriction at the present time is a large enough room, facilities for catering and toilets.

The interior of the stables is largely intact and unaltered and provides a unique opportunity for interpretation of a ‘perfect’ designed landscape, lying as it does at the centre of the designed landscape with the Mansion House, Old Dairy, Curling Pond, Dovecote, Coach House and Walled Garden in sight and within a few minutes walk. The Stables will also allow space for development of the present, very basic tearoom that will provide an income for the project and make it economically sustainable.

The Walled Gardens, ancillary buildings and Glasshouses will provide space for practical training and learning. Improved propagation and potting shed facilities would dramatically improve the learning experience for students, volunteers and work experience candidates and enable Cambo Gardens to fulfil the potential that is so clearly there and meet the demand for places.

In due course the Coach House will provide living, study and recreation accommodation for garden students, volunteers and people seeking work experience. This will help to satisfy the unmet demand for horticultural and environmental work placements and volunteering within Cambo Estate.

What Will This Project Achieve?

  • It will be the first step of a project towards the conservation of the significant but redundant buildings that form a central part of an intact and clearly identifiable designed landscape which has its integrated walled garden still cultivated, kept to a very high standard and in a state of continued development.
  • It will revive the Stables building and the Glasshouses into fully operational and sustainable buildings with more students and volunteers learning from practical training, the heritage of a unique walled garden being conserved for the future.
  • It will enhance the cultural and historic importance of Cambo by conserving and repairing one of its most significant buildings.
  • It will provide a gateway to the Cambo Estate and Cambo House and through interpretation will give visitors a greater understanding of the surrounding natural and built heritage and provide information on current activities which give opportunity for participation including work placements, volunteering etc.
  • These historic buildings are an intrinsic part of much loved gardens and grounds visited by thousands of visitors annually. By bringing these buildings to life and ensuring their long term future, the visitor’s experience will be much enhanced, with requested interpretation and learning opportunities being provided.
  • It will build on and increase the estimated 47,000 visitors who benefit from and enjoy the facilities at Cambo each year by providing better facilities and a staff dedicated to the management and co-ordination of all the activities currently offered by Cambo Institute and proposed in the future.
  • It will enable Cambo Institute to continue to provide, expand and enhance provision of therapeutic environmental volunteering. The present Green Team has been shown as an effective tool to combat stress, loneliness and depression, giving a feeling of pride, ownership and achievement to those taking part and a strong tool for bringing the community together in a common goal.
  • It will enable Cambo Institute to provide more practical training places for student gardeners. At present the number is only limited by lack of space for students, work space for practical work and inadequate glasshouse and propagation facilities. More people can benefit, finding the experience they seek to help choose their next step.
  • It will enable young people to benefit from work experience in practical skills to help them gain employment. The present lack of staff and facilities greatly restricts the numbers who can take part. An estimated 4 young people at any one time can be offered this opportunity in the future.
  • It will make a contribution to increased economic activity in the area.

Where Are We?

The Stage 2 Lottery Fund submission was successful and £1.2 million was awarded in June 2013 with work scheduled to start within a year and the whole project completed by 2018, subject to match funding.

The Institute has already embarked on the major task of raising the £1.9m additional funding required to match the grant and to date has pledges and donations for £850,000 from trusts, foundations, legacies, donations from Friends of Cambo and fundraising events. Further fundraising events will take place over the next year to help bridge the funding gap including a Fun Run which is being organised through Fife AC.

Commenting on the award, Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said:
“Our heritage offers a rich resource for skills and education so HLF is delighted to support Cambo Institute where it is being used in such an innovative way. The gardens provide powerful and memorable experiences for young people, making learning fun and opening their eyes to the natural heritage which surrounds them. We applaud the commitment of the team at Cambo and are delighted that even more people will now benefit from the work being done.”

  • Architects, Page/Park, have developed the proposals to RIBA Plan of Work Stage D. Application for detailed Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent are in hand and budget costs have been prepared for the physical aspects of the project and its related activities.
  • Local industries and companies are being approached with the attractive benefit of using Cambo as an incentive.
  • It is now envisaged that the Coach House restoration will be carried out with funding from the European Development Fund in conjunction with Fife Council and Adam Smith and Fife Colleges who will use it as a training project for their students.
  • Application has been made to the Skiffington Trust for funding for an all year round sensory garden for the blind in the display glasshouse. It is anticipated that this would be a constantly evolving project which could become a project for a future student.

The Architect's Plans for the Stables


The Stables

The Stables

The Stables

The Stables

Stables Project

The Stables

The Stables

Dry Stone Walling Workshop

Cambo Estate

Coach House

Glass Houses


Willow Weaving Workshop

Stone Carving Workshop

Forest Education

Woodland Workshop

Garden Students