Cracks are part of this house's charm. Rhiannon Batten discovers a restoration project with a difference, and a library with only one thing missing

What is it?

A grand but homely-looking 17th- and 18th-century house set within what were once landscaped but are now overgrown gardens. It was built by the Scottish architect James Smith in 1686, but bought soon afterwards by the Dalrymple family, in whose possession it remained until it was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1997. The Dalrymples were the ancestors of the contemporary travel writer, William, but are better known in Scotland for the particularly bloodthirsty part that Sir John Dalrymple played in the Glencoe massacre. The really interesting thing about the house for visitors, though, is that the Trust conserved rather than restored it, leaving cracked windows and broken banisters. Original decoration has survived - faded, handprinted wallpaper, mustard-coloured panelling, traditional recessed beds and, below stairs, the crumbling remains of the original kitchen. Now that the house has reopened, the Trust plans to tackle the gardens.

Where is it?

About five miles east of Edinburgh, just outside Musselburgh. You can see the sea from the garden. The house is hidden from the road but it's easy to find thanks to big brown tourist trail signs. Newhailes Road, Musselburgh, East Lothian, EH21 6RY (0131-665 1546; www.nts.org.uk).

Something for the children

Younger children probably won't find the house particularly exciting, though there is a secret doorway and a hidden passageway. If they're getting bored, take them to see the small pet cemetery near the entrance, or to the huge, grassy garden at the back of the house.

Something for adults

The Palladian house's main claim to fame is its library, which takes up almost a whole wing, and was described by Samuel Johnson as "the most learned room in Europe". In 1971 its books were given to the National Library of Scotland in lieu of death duties, but the Trust is negotiating to return them to the house. The room itself is pretty impressive. The house is also noted for its plasterwork and fireplaces

Refreshments

There is a small café on site but it's restricted to tea, coffee and cakes. For more choice, head to Luca's Café in nearby Musselburgh (32-38 High Street, 0131-665 2237), a family business best known for its "secret recipe" ice cream but also serving pizzas, pies and toasted sandwiches.

Souvenirs

There is a small shop at the entrance selling books, the usual National Trust souvenirs, and some local crafts.

Will there be queues?

The house is open from Thursday to Monday from 12 noon to 5pm and the grounds are open daily during daylight hours. You can only see the house as part of a bookable tour, starting every 20 minutes. This costs £7 for adults, £5.25 for children, £19 for a family (2 adults and up to five children) and is free to National Trust for Scotland and National Trust members. Disabled visitors are well catered for, with a lift to the main floor of the house and access to all but two rooms.

How to get there

By car: Take the A1 east from Edinburgh, then the A6095. Newhailes is just off this.

By public transport: Bus 30 leaves Edinburgh city centre every half hour and stops by the house (Lothian buses, 0131-555 6363). The train stops at Musselburgh station and there's a 15-minute walk.

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