Location and Setting
Achnacarry is situated off the B8005 some 14 miles (22.5km) north-east of Fort William. The house lies on the south side of the River Arkaig about 1 mile (1.5km) from the south-western shore of Loch Lochy. The policies lie within the river valley between the hills of Lochiel Forest which rise up to Beinn Bhan 2,612' (796m) in the south, and the hills of Glengarry Forest to the north, rising to Sron a' Choire Ghairbh 3,068' (935m). The climate is cold and wet and the soils are acid on granite bedrock. Most of the surrounding land is heather moorland.
Achnacarry is set at the southern end of the Highland Fault in some of the most magnificent upland scenery in Scotland. Long views extend east across Loch Lochy to Ben Nevis and west along Loch Arkaig to the Knoydart peninsula. The tree canopy of the policy woodlands which run along the shores of Loch Lochy are highly significant in the landscape seen from the A82(T).
Achnacarry lies within some 222 acres (90ha) of designed landscape which is bordered by hills on the south and north sides and on the other two by the shores of two freshwater lochs. The garden is situated between the house and the ruins of the old castle near the stables which lie to the west. The shrubbery and walled kitchen garden lie about a quarter of a mile east of the house, near the banks of the river.
Documentary evidence is provided by General Roy's plan of c.1750, the 1st edition OS plan of c.1850 and the 2nd edition OS plan of c.1900. Comparison of these maps shows that the present extent of the policies was established by the mid-19th century.
The designed landscape was first laid out during the latter half of the 17th century. It was destroyed after the 1745 rising and was redesigned in the mid- 19th century when construction of the new house, begun in 1802, was resumed.
In the mid-16th century, Ewen Cameron, grandson of the 11th Chief (1st Captain of the Clan Cameron), built Tor Castle, on the River Lochy near Fort William. By the mid-17th century Sir Ewen Cameron (1629-1719) had demolished Tor Castle and built a new castle at Achnacarry on the River Arkaig. He was a political figure and a strong advocate of the Jacobite cause and he was knighted by James VII (II) in 1681. His son, John, took part in the 1715 rising and had to flee to France leaving the estate in the hands of his son, Donald, the 19th Chief, known as 'the Gentle Lochiel'. He joined the rising of 1745. Although badly wounded, he managed to escape from the Battle of Culloden and some weeks later briefly entertained Charles Stuart at Achnacarry. Shortly afterwards the castle was sacked and burnt by the Army and it is from contemporary reports that the gardens are first described. Lochiel's 'fine fruit garden, above a mile long, was pulled to pieces and laid waste. A beautiful summerhouse was also set on fire'.
The Gentle Lochiel fled to France and it was his grandson, the 22nd Chief, who regained the forfeited estate at the age of seven by paying a fine of £4,000. A report written by the factor at that time recorded that the policies and farm were all in ruin and that the woodland on the site of Loch Arkaig was a 'mixture of ash, hazel etc. with a few firs'.
In c.1802 James Gillespie Graham was commissioned to build an 'Adam castellated style' house. Before his death in 1832, the walls were built but the house was not finished. It was his son, the 23rd Chief, who completed the house in 1837 and who became the first Cameron to make it his home. Since then, three more generations of Camerons have lived at Achnacarry and, today, it is the residence of the 26th Chief of Clan Cameron. It has been lived in continuously except when it was taken over as a Commando training camp during World War II; a disastrous fire during the occupation destroyed much of the woodland. The present Chief has been particularly instrumental in improving the gardens.
Achnacarry House, listed category B, was designed by J. Gillespie Graham in 1802 and completed in 1837. It was partially burnt during World War II and restored in 1952 by Ian G. Lindsay. The Stables and Offices, listed category C(S), lie to the west of the house and were probably built c.1850. They have been renovated recently. The Ruins, listed category B, are adjacent to the Stables and are thought to be the remains of Achnacarry Castle, built in c.1660 and burnt in 1746. The Dairy and Laundry lie to the west of the Stables. The Sawmill is a wooden building probably built at the end of the 19th century.
The Summerhouse, listed category C, is a small square ruin built of stone. The lower floor used to straddle the riverside path and the upper floor was at the same level as the garden; there is a ruined fireplace at this level. The date of construction is unknown but a ring count of a large ash tree growing in the centre of the ruin dated the tree to c.1780, which suggests that the ruin could be that of the Summerhouse recorded as being burnt in 1746.
The Walled Garden is shown on the 1st edition OS map of c.1850; a decorative Game Larder adjacent to the garden was recently burnt down. The Old Post Office is known to have existed in the early 19th century as a Gardener's House but the date of original construction is uncertain. It was probably built in 1746 and later rebuilt. It has been unoccupied for the last twenty years and is currently being converted into a Clan Cameron Museum. Achnacarry Church, listed category B, was built c.1910 on a small hillock overlooking the old carriage drive. The Burial Ground of the Lochiels, listed category C, lies on a small 'holy' island in Loch Arkaig and is said to have been the site of an early Christian chapel.
The policies were laid out in the mid-19th century as shown in the 1st edition OS plan of c.1850. The layout of the park remained relatively unchanged until the construction of Nissen huts for the Commando Camp during World War II. The ground was restored following the removal of the huts. Sycamore, lime and horse chestnut still grow on the slightly higher and more southerly section. Along Loch Lochy the park is protected from the winds by a broad woodland.
There were two entrance drives quite close to each other running along the south side of the park. The most southerly and slightly higher one is used today. It leads more directly to the house and passes the Old Post Office. The northerly one was more 'picturesque'. It curved down from a vantage point close to the church providing magnificent views of the house and ended in a straight avenue of sycamore and lime trees. It has been suggested that these sycamores could have been planted before 1730 but their exact date is uncertain.
Recently, several clumps of conifers have been planted to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and several specimen trees have been planted by members of the Royal Family.
The woodland at Achnacarry has been the subject of various accounts over the past 400 years. The age range of the trees is mixed although much planting has recently been renewed due to a severe fire in 1942 and the ravages of a more recent gale in 1984. The shelterbelts around the park are planted with mixed varieties including Scots pine, beech, lime and some purple beech dating from the end of the 19th century.
On the slopes of the Lochiel Forest and Monadh Beag are the remains of a stand of the Caledonian Forest which has been severely damaged by fire. At the time of writing, the Scots pines are slowly regenerating in small pockets.
Larch growing on the north bank of the river up to Torr a Mhuilt were clear- felled in 1920 and the area has been reseeded, mainly with birch. Recently, Sir Donald has cleared the understorey of Rhododendron ponticum as part of a five year programme of renewal. There is also an interesting collection of conifers planted before World War I including silver firs, Abies alba, and several Lawson specimens. A good stand of conifers, planted by the 24th Chief, were measured in 1967, and the heights recorded show them to be close in height to some of the largest of their kind in the country.
Part of the wood and the garden around the walled garden merge together and form the woodland garden. To the west of the walled garden there is a magnificent line of beech (planted so close together that they are said to be the trees originally just planted in a trench) waiting for the 'Gentle Lochiel' to return from the 1745 rising to plant them. They now form part of an attractive riverside walk. There are also one or two very old trees such as a large lime Tilia x europea about 250 years old, some ancient yews and a Victorian monkey puzzle. To the east of the walled garden there is a small arboretum planted by Sir Donald which includes some Cornus species, an Embothrium coccineum, as well as varieties of Snakebark maples and whitebeams. Alan Mitchell visited in 1982 and measured over thirty trees including a tall Wellingtonia (over 158') and a pocket handkerchief tree, Davidia invoLand Use Consultantsrata.
The terrace garden surrounds the house and it is said that the southern side was part of the old walled garden belonging to the Castle. The terrace is edged by a stone retaining wall about 8' high, and above it is a diamond-shaped balustrade with flights of steps leading down to the lower terrace. It is planted up with hybrid Rhododendrons and ends in a clipped beech hedge separating it from the park. A tall Wisteria and a large Hydrangea petiolaris climb up the house walls. Between the house and the stable-block there are several large Rhododendron hybrids, some dating from c.1860. They are surrounded by elderly sycamores dating from the mid-18th century and, amongst them, are a large are a large Eucryphia x nymanensis, a Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Squarrosa', a Picea smithiana and other notable conifers. They were all planted by Sir Donald's father in the 1930s. Recently, and partly due to the damage caused by the storm in 1984, there has been some new planting, particularly of species rhododendron and, in one major gap, Lady Cameron has planted a new herbaceous border and filled it with interesting plants.
The large walled garden was probably built in the 1840s at the same time as the house was finished and its formal design can be seen in the 1st edition OS plan of c.1850. The walls on three sides were built of brick and the other made from stone. The whole garden is no longer used for growing flowers, fruit and vegetables although there is one small section growing vegetables for the house. Part of the remainder is growing a crop of poplars and the larger section is used for pheasant rearing.