Location and Setting
Arbuthnott is situated in the valley of the Bervie Water some 2.5 miles (4km) north- west of the town of Inverbervie and the coast, and 8.5 miles (14km) south-west of Stonehaven. The B967, which links Inverbervie with the main A94(T), forms the northern boundary of the designed landscape. The Bervie Water cuts through the undulating agricultural landscape of the Mearns district and, at Arbuthnott, forms a steep-sided valley. The surrounding land rises to 571' (174m) in the north and 582' (177m) in the south. The Bothenoth Burn (Burn of Healing), a tributary of the Bervie Water runs approximately north/south through the policies before joining the Bervie Water to the east of Arbuthnott House.
Distant views to the Grampian Mountains in the west can be gained from the policies but views of the immediate surrounding landscape are restricted due to the valley setting and the surrounding estate woodlands. The woodlands of Arbuthnott contribute to the local scenery from the B967, and the park can be seen from the access road to Arbuthnott Church on the east side of the policies. The river valley setting of the policies has been used in the design of the early terraces and the picturesque improvements of the landscape.
Arbuthnott House stands on the north bank of the Bervie Water amid a designed landscape which extends north to the B967, south to Birniehill Plantation, east to Arbuthnott Church and west to the Steps of Arbuthnott. A stone wall encloses the policies on the north bank of the Bervie Water. Documentary evidence of the designed landscape includes General Roy's map of c.1750, a proposed improvement plan of the Arbuthnott Estate by James Abercrombie of 1792, survey plans from 1792- 1850, the 1st edition OS map of 1871, and the 2nd edtion OS map of c.1900. Comparison of these indicates that the designed landscape was extended from that shown in 1750 in the course of the improvements following Abercrombie's proposals. Further improvements made to the landscape in the first half of the 19th century did not effectively change the extent of the policies. The Dark Avenue had been planted earlier as a vista to the west of the house and the picturesque main drive was constructed as the principal means of access. The west drive was created for direct access to the Mains. The Bervie Water and its tributary have been incorporated within the design, which includes some 766 acres (310ha).
The designed landscape of Arbuthnott was laid out in the late 18th century following an improvement plan by James Abercrombie in 1792, not all of which was carried out. Features of the earlier layout shown on General Roy's plan of 1750 were incorporated. Further improvements were made between 1820-59. The 19th century design also retained the Dark Avenue and the terraced garden.
The estate of Arbuthnott has remained in the same family since at least the 12th century when Hugo de Swinton was granted the title to the lands of Aberbothenoth. These had previously been held under a Charter of William the Lion, for a Knight's fee, by the Oliphants whose daughter and heiress may have been married to Swinton. The oldest record held by the family goes back to 1206, when Hugo's son, Duncan, was involved in a territorial dispute with the Bishop of St. Andrews over the lands of Kirkton. Duncan adopted the name of Aberbothenoth and his son, Hugh, is thought to have been responsible for the earliest surviving building work on the north wall of the courtyard.
The fortified (Manor) house was begun by the 9th Laird in c.1420 and extended to a courtyard type castle between 1471-1505 by Sir Robert, the 12th Laird, who is also known to have made many improvements to the estate. The house was altered by many subsequent lairds.
The 18th laird, Sir Robert, was created Baron Inverbervie and Viscount of Arbuthnott in 1641. His grandson, Robert, the 3rd Viscount was responsible for considerable expenditure in the house and, particularly in the garden, laying out the terraces which remain today. The designed landscape shown on General Roy's map of c.1750 is probably attributable to him since there was little improvement activity in the first half of the 18th century due to the family's involvement in the '15 and '45 uprisings. John Arbuthnott, the 5th Viscount and 22nd Laird commissioned the Classical addition to the house in 1754 and, at the same time, removed much of what remained of the 15th century castle. His grandson, the 7th Viscount and 24th Laird, tackled many of the internal building problems of the house which had previously been ignored. He also commissioned James Abercrombie in 1792 to prepare an improvement plan of the estate.
The 8th Viscount, who inherited in 1800, was responsible for the last major alterations to the designed landscape which remains today. They were commissioned between 1820 and his death in 1860. The present laird is the 16th Viscount of Arbuthnott, who succeeded to the title in 1966. Lord and Lady Arbuthnott have been responsible for many recent improvements to the park, woods and garden.
Arbuthnott House, listed category A, has been the subject of extensive additions and alterations since the original fortified house was built in the 15th century. The west end of the old castle was enlarged northwards to form a symmetrical Georgian mansion with a pedimented front in 1754-57, with additions in c.1795-1800. A modern conservatory, added recently to the south elevation, overlooks the garden. The North Bridge over the Bothenoth Burn was built in c.1821; it is ornamented with urns and is also listed A.
The Mains Farm, listed B, was built in 1792. The Garden House, also listed B, is thought to have been built at the same time that the garden was laid out. The North Gates, flanked by twin Greek Revival temples, are 19th century and listed B. The Doocot, listed C(S), is 18th century and now derelict. The Ice House, listed B, is 19th century. The sundial. in the walled garden, listed B, dates from the early 19th century.
There are four distinct areas of parkland at Arbuthnott. The old Deer Park lies to the east of the house, beyond the Bothenoth Burn. The Abercrombie plan of 1792 proposed that this area be largely wooded with a kitchen garden sited on the south side. There is no evidence to suggest that this proposal was carried out.
The Deer Park was actually laid out with a woodland enclosure. The Criminal's Clump, a small wooded roundel, remains in the south-west corner. To the west of Arbuthnott House, the Dark Avenue extends through parkland in a north-west direction from the house. The Avenue is shown on General Roy's map of 1750 and is indicated as the main approach to the house on the Abercrombie plan of 1792 but was never used as such. It is recorded in reports of 1800 as being old by that time but it appears to have been replanted with beech in the late 19th century. Lord Arbuthnott has recently replanted part of the Avenue with beech and sycamore. A fine, framed view of the house is gained from the top of the Avenue. A tennis court has been built in recent years at the edge of this park, near the house.
Beyond the river, on a north-facing slope, the park enclosed by Birniehill and Crow Wood forms an important backdrop to views across the terraced garden. The smallest area of parkland lies to the south of the terraced garden between the burn, canalised as a mill-lade, and the Bervie Water. Lime trees, of varying age between 120-200 years, have been planted alongside the canal and others run along the southern boundary of this park. It is hoped to remove every second tree in time, in order that some may be replanted and also to open vistas from the house.
The 'New Statistical Account' (1838) describes an extensive range of deciduous species established in the parish and notes that some twenty species of oak, chiefly American varieties, have been introduced into the nursery by Lord Arbuthnott (the 8th Viscount). It also notes that the oldest wood in the parish at that time was around Arbuthnott House.
The present woodland structure dates from c.1820 but is based on Abercrombie's Plan of 1792. The only hardwood trees which remain from this early period of planting lie along the northern edge of Birniehill Wood, adjacent to the Bervie Water. Woodland species are largely hardwoods of mixed age although both soft and hardwoods have been planted in many of the policy woodlands since 1960. It is current policy that only hardwoods should be replanted along the valley in view of the house and in other key amenity areas.
A square block of woodland, planted in the late 19th century for game cover in the field beyond the Dark Avenue, has recently been replanted with conifers but will revert to hardwood when the present crop matures. The steep banks of the Bothenoth Burn between the house and the farm drive have recently been cleared of woodland to allow views of the burn from the North Bridge and to give light to the house itself. Ornamental shrubs are to be selectively re-established on the banks.
The five acre terraced garden at Arbuthnott was, according to family records, laid out by Robert, the 3rd Viscount, between 1683-94, although the garden is not recorded on either General Roy's map of 1750 or the Abercrombie plan of 1792. Abercrombie proposed a rectangular kitchen garden which was never implemented on the east bank of the Bothenoth Burn, much further from the house than the site of the Terraced Garden.
The 1st edition OS map shows the layout of the garden as it still remains today on the steep south-facing slope of the valley of the Bervie Water. It is a series of four terraces, across which run diagonal intersecting grass paths. The 8th Viscount is known to have planted extensively in the garden between 1820-59 and the mill-lade, formed as a feature along the southern boundary of the garden, could have been created at this time. Many exotic conifers have been introduced including the Douglas Firs, Wellingtonia and an early Cedar, thought to be c.220 years old. Among the more recent additions were two Metasequoias from the first batch of seed delivered to Crathes Castle after its introduction to Britain in 1948.
The unusual intersecting grass paths have been retained over the years and help to disguise the steep slope of the garden. Old clipped box and yews edge and protect the diamond shaped compartments and were part of the original formal layout. The grass paths and hedges are maintained to the same shapes and to a high standard.
The layout of the garden decreases in formality as the terraces descend the slope. Extensive herbaceous borders line the south-facing wall of the upper terrace to the garden house at its west end, and vegetables and cut flowers are grown together. The ribbon bedding of earlier years has been replaced with rose and shrub beds and a variety of ornamental trees and flowering shrubs has been planted to give a wide range of colour throughout the year. The glasshouses are today used for ornamental and pot plants. There are two gates in the west wall which lead to a woodland walk through Kailbank Wood, which was laid out in the past as a shrubbery up to the chapel site to the west. The path returns along the south side of the woods and along the canalised mill-lade to re-enter the garden by the lower gate. The lower terrace is planted as an orchard with hazel trees as an unusual feature. A 200 yard long rifle sighting range was laid out along the lowest terrace in about 1860, and two of the targets remain, one of which is an iron stag. In spring the woodland area is carpeted with daffodils, white bluebells, aconites and snowdrops.
The lawns extend up to the house and island rose beds are laid out under ornamental trees. Rose borders and a rock garden have been added near to the house by Lady Arbuthnott.