A Return to Cambo …
Cambo Gardens have always been a favourite visit for us as a family in Fife. We’ve been visiting since our girls were barely walking – whether in winter to see the snowdrops or in summer to see the pigs, gardens and to run our dog along the Fife Coastal Path … followed by a coffee in the cafe with a wee bit of shopping!
We visited in October 2017 just as the new Cambo Stables Visitor Centre opened and wrote about it then. This blog is a wee update on some of the developments since then as well as what’s happening this summer – and some of their future plans …
As regular visitors to Cambo, we’ve watched with huge interest: first there was the Gringots Trail and then the development of the Outdoor Play Area. We had also attended a couple of family workshops. And all the while, the Stables were being developed. Dating from the 1760’s, the Erskine family realised they provided a fantastic resource. After a huge amount of fundraising, topped off finally by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2013, work started on the project – to turn the dream into reality. The Cambo Stables Visitor Centre is not only a welcoming start to your visit to Cambo Walled Garden, but it is also now the home of the Cambo Heritage Trust and a centre of education.
The Visitor Centre is lovely with lots of information boards about the history of Cambo, what you can expect to see in the gardens and a fabulous interactive map of the estate with little bits of history available. There is even a pooing cow to keep the under 5’s entertained and interested!
Cambo Gardens have three apprentices every year from Our Bright Future. And each week they are responsible for a weekly display of plants which can be seen in the garden at that time – labelled both with their Latin as well as their more common name: it is a great resource for the visitor but is also helping the apprentices with their own identification skills.
The Stables are very much as they would have been in the 1760’s but where repairs have been needed, they’ve been done very sympathetically. Much of the money went into putting in services and re-roofing. Again, there are lots of information boards detailing what life would have been like living at Cambo and in particular the history of horses – how they were used – and a wee bit on the role women played on the estate. You can even tack up a horse and find out which type of pony you’d be in “hands” – we went from Highland Pony to Cob! There’s a fabulous video created of photos that were taken on the estate. St Andrews is famous for the early development of photography and the Erskines were early adopters, so these photos have been restored and put into a great display.
From the Stables, you walk directly into the Walled Garden – dogs welcome on leads. This ever-changing garden is always lovely to stroll around before heading into the Wild Woods and down onto the Coastal Path or Kingsbarns Beach.
Since our last visit in October, there have been some developments! A part of the Garden is now being transformed into a “performance” area – so rather than have all the events indoors, they will be able to be taken into the open air. The Glasshouses, although not original, have been built based on photos from the archives that weren’t destroyed when the original house was raised to the ground by a fire. The only difference is that the 21st century versions are made from aluminium. Historic Scotland wanted them to be in wood but Catherine Erskine argued strongly that the Victorians would themselves have used aluminium if it had been available!
They are currently developing one of the Glasshouses to be a Sensory Glasshouse with the help of their volunteers. The other glasshouses are for growing plants for the garden as well as produce for the shop/cafe. There will be tomatoes for sale at the end of the summer!
There has also been quite a lot of interest in the herbs that are grown at Cambo – by gin distillers! In fact some of the herbs are being used in the Kingsbarns Gin. Kingsbarns Distillery has just opened a Gin Cottage and in the future are looking to run Make Your Own Gin Classes – and it will be an opportunity to use the herbs from Cambo. Just the tonic!
Lemon Verbena very unusually grows in the Cambo Garden – the smell is fabulous. Further down the Garden, a Potager is being planted out too – it is being done in a very different fashion from previously and we will look forward to visiting in a couple of months to see how it’s worked out. The stream bank has also been left to re-wild and it looks brilliant.
We were also lucky enough to take a visit to what would have been the original walled garden: left to run wild for years, in 2017 they strimmed it to find out what was there. They have now planted some apple trees up the wall and other orchard trees too. The Trust have also started to build raised beds. Again, the produce will be sold in the shop or used by the Cafe.
And finally, we visited the Lost Elf Village – a play area which since our first visit back in 2017, has really bedded in and is now often used by local nursery groups who, after a visit to the garden or woods, can return and enjoy toasting marshmallows on the Camp fire. The area was developed with help from Tesco’s Bags for Help appeal and continuing Cambo’s engagement and support of local schools, pupils from Bell Baxter High School helped to build it, learning woodland skills as part of the project.
The shop in the Stables is still selling the beautiful produce made by Crail Pottery but it now also focuses on horticulture, environmentally friendly products and other locally produced crafts. Homespun in a local business producing beautiful wooden jewellery and wood from Cambo is used to produce chopping boards and wooden spoons – made by volunteers or on workshops. They are now also selling cut flowers from the Gardens and will also sell the produce from the Garden. It is very much about linking the Garden to the Home.
A final stop is the Nosebag Cafe run by Eric. For those of you who remember the courtyard back at the house, this is so much larger and offering a full menu in spacious & comfortable surroundings. We sampled delicious soup, freshly made bread along with roasted pulled pork followed by some home-baked treats. The Nosebag is open to all even if you are not visiting the Gardens (on this visit!) and would be a perfect stop for walkers on the Fife Coastal Path or for cyclists who are enjoying the East Neuk cycle routes. And last week, Eric hosted their first ceilidh which was a roaring success. It is now a case of when is the next one will be!
What we have always loved about Cambo is it’s earthiness … the more rustic feel to it. There’s always a danger that with new buildings this could have been changed or lost. But the development is all in keeping and has been managed really well. It adds to the whole Cambo Estate Garden experience for all the family and brings the educational side of Cambo under one roof which will only allow it to grow and flourish.
And for those that are wondering what has happened to the House (after all, that always used to be the start of a visit) – well, it still opens as a Bed & Breakfast but mainly it is now used for Weddings – you can rent it exclusively for family celebrations and parties. There are still the Cambo cottages to rent as well as the Woodland Retreat – with a couple of bell tents and even a boat! For further details head to Cambo Estate website.
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