Castles & Gardens
Scotland holds an international reputation for its many historic castles, from ruins such as Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, to magnificent family homes such as Dunrobin Castle. Part of the attraction of some of these historic sites are the amazing gardens that surround them. With the clean air and mild climate influenced by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, Scotland is home to some remarkable garden layouts.
Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland, since the 13th century. The style of the Castle was radically changed in the 19th century, when Sir Charles Barry was commissioned to re-design the castle from what was a fort, to a castle in the Scottish baronial style. Barry was known for his work in rebuilding London’s Houses of Parliament. The Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer also had a major part to play in the rebuilding of the castle, after a damaging fire in 1914. The gardens have changed little since the 1850s and are modelled on the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. An unusual feature of the gardens is the giant ‘gunnera’ plant of South America, with its huge eight-foot leaves.
In addition to the gardens, Dunrobin also has its own small museum, located beside the Gardens and a superb falconry demonstration, which is conducted twice daily in the summer months, at 11.30 am and 2pm.
Dunbeath Castle and Gardens
Dunbeath Castle and Gardens is located 2 hours drive north of Inverness on a spur of land surrounded by cliffs and the North Sea to its east. It is privately owned and while the house is not normally open to the public, the gardens can be visited on appointment. It has a dramatic entrance via a tree-lined avenue with two distinct walled gardens on each side of the driveway. The Formal Garden has long grass paths with colourful herbaceous borders and includes water features, sculptures and a heated greenhouse. It was re-modelled in 1998 by the Chelsea Garden Gold Award winner Xa Tollemache and comprises a series of rooms within the garden, each with its own personality. A second garden on the north side of the driveway comprises a variety of grasses, water features and a Japanese style pagoda and is a place for peaceful relaxation and reflection.
Attadale House and Gardens
Attadale House and Gardens has been owned by the MacPherson family since 1952 and their work in enhancing the various gardens, has turned Attadale into a popular visitor attraction today. The gardens are open to the public daily but it is also possible to book an appointment where a family member conducts a private tour, that includes tea and coffee in the main house. The gardens are very attractive and natural, comprising many species of plants and shrubs but also Giant Sequoia, Redwood and Tsuga trees.
In 1862 Osgood MacKenzie inherited a 2100 acre tract of desolate landscape on a peninsular in the Inverewe area of north west Scotland. He set about turning this rugged piece of land into a botanical garden, importing all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers from around the world. After his death in 1922, his daughter Mairi Sawyer continued his work and in 1952, she turned the Inverewe Gardens over to the care of the National Trust for Scotland.
In 1952 there were just 3000 visitors to the Inverewe Gardens but today it is visited by over 200,000 people a year, coming from countries all over the world. The recent growth of the North Coast 500 has also drawn more attention to this world-class botanical attraction. The Gardens have over 2500 species of exotic plants, including rare Wollemi pines from New Zealand, Himalayan blue poppies, California Redwoods and rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India.
Most recently the MacKenzie family home Inverewe House, located in the centre part of the Gardens, has been re-opened as an inter-active museum and a base for resident artists.
Cawdor Castle and Gardens
Cawdor Castle dates back to the 14th century when it was built as a fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor. It is best known for its literary connection to William Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Macbeth’, in which the character is made ‘Thane of Cawdor’. However the play is highly fictionalised as the castle itself was built many years after the life of the Scottish King Macbeth. Cawdor has been in the hands of the Campbell family since the 16th century and is still lived in by the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl of Cawdor.
The Castle today is open to the public showcasing its intricate interior designs, tapestries, antique furniture and a wonderful collection of artwork, including contemporary art. Outside of Cawdor Castle, there are three gardens – the Walled Garden which dates to 1720 and the Flower and Wild gardens. The extensive Cawdor Big Wood extends from the Castle to the south and for private tours, one of the Cawdor Rangers will guide groups through the woods to Achindoune House, which also belongs to the Cawdor family. Achindoune has a model kitchen garden, rich in vegetable varieties, an orchard and with an arboretum which is a nursery for growing plants and young trees. It also comprises the wild Tibetan garden, that runs along the Cawdor burn. The Tibetan garden was planted in memory of the 5th Earl Jack Cawdor, who travelled extensively in Tibet, bringing back rare Tibetan species which now thrive on the estate.