- Date Added
- Supplementary Information Updated
- Local Authority
- Aberdour (Fife)
- NT 19334 85308
- 319334, 685308
One of the oldest gardens in the country, with terraces dating back to 1548. Figs, almonds, jasmine, plums and cherries were recorded growing here in 1687. The gardens form a spectacular setting for Aberdour castle.
Type of Site
A compact castle garden incorporating mid-16th-century terraces, a walled garden with walls dating from the early 17th century, a late-17th-century orchard, remnants of early to mid 19th century parkland and more recent 20th and 21st century plantings.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Mid-16th-century (1548), late-17th-century (1687 and 1690), early to mid 19th century and 20th and 21st century
Location and Setting
Aberdour Castle is situated on the north coast of the Firth of Forth, some five miles east of the Forth Road Bridge and three miles west of Burntisland. The site is bounded by the railway to the north, Aberdour House to the west and the public park and housing to south and east. Views can be obtained to the south, south-west and south-east, and across the railway to the north-west. Views of the Castle from the town and main road, the A92(T), are limited.
The Castle was built on a steep hill to the east of the Dour Burn above its estuary and the sheltered harbour at Aberdour. The designed landscape extended over a greater area than it does today, and when General Roy's map was drawn up in 1750 (after Aberdour House had been included in the estate) the very formal design extended west across the burn, north to the former main road, east to the Hughses wood and south to the coast. By c.1860, the date of the 1st edition OS map, the formal landscape had entirely disappeared, even the former straight path up to the obelisk had been curved. The shelterbelts remained and a few individual trees had been added. The railway was put in before the 2nd edition map and this cut through the northern boundary of the Castle grounds; the north wall of the Walled Garden was rebuilt and a new approach adjacent to the Station put in to the west. The west gate was rebuilt in its present position, and the north shelter woodland was lost.
The Aberdour House policies (formerly called Cuttlehill) were incorporated into the estate in 1725. The obelisk was put up in 1744; it was primarily designed to be viewed from Dalmahoy but it could also be viewed from the house and Castle. The Castle was positioned for defensive purposes and affords good views in most directions. There are 38 acres (15ha) in the designed landscape today.
In 1325 the Barony of Aberdour was granted by Robert the Bruce to his nephew Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. In 1342 Thomas's son John in turn granted it to his friend Sir William Douglas and it has belonged to the Douglas family ever since. In 1456, James the 4th Baronet was created 1st Earl of Morton in anticipation of his marriage to Joanna, daughter of James I. Between 1540-1543 the king took the lands of the 3rd Earl for non-payment of feu-duties, but they were later reinstated. The 4th Earl, James, became Lord Chancellor and was implicated in Riccio's murder. Surviving these charges, he became Regent for the young King James VI between 1572-78, only to be imprisoned and subsequently executed in 1581 for the murder of Darnley. His lands were granted to the Earl of Lennox, but were restored to a branch of the Douglas family in 1587. In 1606 the 6th Earl, William, succeeded, becoming Lord Chancellor in 1630, and it was he who had the East Range built after he sold his Dalkeith Estate to meet financial pressures. Aberdour became the Morton family home and at that time it was recorded as being richly furnished. Anne Murray, later Lady Halkett, writing in her journal of 1650, records 'I was lead in through the garden which was so fragrant and delightful that I thought I was still in England'. The 6th Earl died in 1648 but work continued at the Castle and the grounds were planted up in the 1690s. Two fires affected the castle, one in 1688 when the 8th Earl granted repairs for his aunt to live in the wing, and another in 1715. The Castle was finally abandoned after this second fire, in 1725, when Cuttlehill House to the west was added to the estate, and renamed Aberdour House. In 1845, it was noted that the Castle was a ready made quarry for the whole neighbourhood. The East Range of the castle continued to be used until 1924 as barrack, school-room and dwelling, and in 1924 it was placed under the guardianship of Historic Buildings & Monuments, when the south-east wing was restored as a dwelling for the keeper. The Castle and Gardens continue to be maintained by Historic Scotland.
The Castle incorporates one of the very small number of truly medieval towers surviving in Scotland. The oldest part is the tower house in the west corner which dates from the 14th century. It was remodelled in the 15th & 16th centuries when the central range was built, probably for the 4th Earl, who may also have built the terraces to the south. In the 17th century, the 6th Earl added the East Range. It was in ruins by 1836 and was placed in guardianship in 1924.
The 17th century West Gateway was moved when the railway was built. The Walled Garden walls are early 17th century and the east wall is dated 1632. The north wall was reconstructed when the railway was built in 1890.
The church was restored in 1926 having been a roofless ruin since 1790. The Doocot is a 16th century beehive design, with about 600 nesting boxes and three string- courses. It was in use up until at least 1746. Aberdour House is listed A; it is the former Cuttlehill House and was built in the 17th century. The Sundial at Aberdour House is a 16th century, square pedestalled and is mounted on four balls. The Obelisk is listed B and was constructed in 1744 on Cuttle Hill by the 13th Earl of Morton, to be visible from his estate at Dalmahoy.
The parks were mainly pasture with few parkland trees apart from the shelter woodlands. The town of Aberdour has expanded into the former area of parkland, particularly along the road to the east of the Castle down to the pier. The south park is now open as a public park. Aberdour House and its grounds have been neglected for the last few years. There are proposals to convert the House into sheltered accommodation. The parkland trees date from early 1800s, and those along the Burn from c.1850. There are some more recent plantings.
Originally four terraces were laid out. The terraces extended as far south as the Doocot, but by 1961 only two remained and the area had been in use as a market garden and more recently for sheep grazing. Excavations were carried out between 1977-80 to ascertain whether terraces shown on an 18th century plan had existed. The remains of their retaining walls were discovered, together with pottery dating from the late 16th century and early 17th centuries, putting the date of construction of the terraces at around the time of the 4th Earl who succeeded in 1548. Pollen analysis is also being undertaken. In 1687 James Sutherland sent seeds and accounts from the Physic Garden at Edinburgh and plants delivered included plums, cherries, tamarisks, figs, gooseberries, raspberries, jasmine and almonds. These were planted by William Reid of Edinburgh. Charles Liddel, the gardener, planted up the orchard below the terraces in 1690 with three dozen fruit trees. The terraces have been reconstructed and put down to grass for easy maintenance, although old photographs of the top terraces show a formal bed layout.
This encloses about an acre and has 12' high walls. This garden may have been laid out as a formal garden, but by 1668 it was already in use as a bowling green, and this use continued at least until 1745. There are bee-boles in the walls and a summerhouse was added to the south-east corner about 1675 and was repaired in 1744, but demolished by 1785. In 1740 the courtyard gate was added. A wooden bridge connected the walled garden with the kitchen garden on the south side of the lane and this survived until the end of the last century. The sunken physic garden is now incorporated into the garden of an adjacent house. During the last war the walled garden was used as a market garden and piggery. It is today laid out with broad herbaceous borders around a lawn with central sundial, imported during the 1970s, (possibly from Castle Wigg, Wigtonshire). The herbaceous borders are at their best in July and August. Bedding plants are obtained from Melrose Abbey and any other SDD sites with nurseries.
Aberdour House garden used to have a formal layout which is now derelict. The sundial remains in the centre in front of the house and it is thought that it might originally have stood by the Castle.