Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
NM 70260 47509
170260, 747509

The 20th century gardens of Ardtornish contain a valuable collection of species Rhododendrons and other ericaceous trees and shrubs. The architectural features in the landscape are of special interest and the site contains four Sites of Special Scientific Interest, giving it exceptional wildlife value.

Type of Site

A woodland garden, affording long views across Loch Aline as well as close views of wooded glen, river and waterfall, Ardkinglas makes the most of the surrounding Highland scenery while hosting individual garden compartments dating from the 1960s.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late-19th-century and early-20th-century, extended and altered in the early 1920s, the 1930s and more recently between 1967-87.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

Ardtornish has some value as a Work of Art in its present form.


Level of interest

The interesting estate buildings and the available documentary evidence at Ardtornish provide high Historical value.


Level of interest

The plant collection has high Horticultural value due particularly to its remote location.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the setting for a collection of architectural features of outstanding interest.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The house, Tower and woodlands make an outstanding contribution to the scenery when seen from the A884.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The four Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the estate and the great variety of relatively undisturbed natural habitats give Ardtornish outstanding Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Principal views from the house lead southwards to Loch Linnhe but important views from the site lie north-eastwards to the cascading falls of Tubhailt Mhic ic Eoghain ('MacLean's Towel'). This is formed by the confluence of the innumerable burns which fall off Sgurr na h Eanchainne (B). Sgurr na h Eanchainne (730m) directly to the north, forms the landscape backdrop to views out of the landscape.

Site History

The original Ardtornish House stood approximately 5km to the south of the present house site near Ardtornish Castle at Ardtornish Point. It was built by the Duke of Argyll for Donald Campbell, his factor on the Morvern Estates. In time, the house passed to Campbell's successor, Angus Gregorson, whose son George purchased the surrounding estate in 1819. Patrick Sellar from Sutherland acquired the Estate with other ground further inland in Morvern in 1844. His holdings were separated by the Achranich Estate which was purchased by Octavius Smith from London in 1845. He began the construction of a new house on his estate between 1856-60. By 1860, the estates were amalgamated after Octavius Smith had bought Acharn and Ardtornish from Sellar's heirs. Smith's new house became known as Ardtornish Towers. During this century the name has been changed to Ardtornish House or, more usually, Ardtornish. He carried out many improvements throughout the estate. These improvements were later continued by his son, Valentine Smith, a distiller in London, who inherited on his father's death in 1871.

Of the Smiths' improvements, the most outstanding is the generally high standard of construction achieved in the new estate buildings which is considered remarkable for this period in Scottish history. Samuel Barham, the Estate Master of Works, was responsible for much of the design and his use of concrete in the structures is thought to be amongst the earliest in the United Kingdom. Following the completion of the new house, the two properties continued to be inhabited by the family. In the early years of 1880 when it had only been completed for fourteen years, it was discovered that extensive repairs were required to the Octavius Smith house. Valentine Smith demolished it, retaining the old clocktower, and commissioned Alexander Ross to construct the present house which was built between 1884-91. Following its completion, Valentine Smith moved permanently to the new house. The present gardens were begun by him. His sister, Gertrude, who had married one of Partrick Sellar's sons, returned to Morvern in 1906 with her son. She inherited her brother's estates. The old Ardtornish House was found to be in a state of dereliction and it was demolished. Gertrude Sellar and her son continued to develop the gardens round the present house in the Edwardian style.

In 1930, Owen and Emmeline Hugh Smith purchased the property from the executors of the Sellar family. The gardens contained an interesting range of plants to which the new owners enthusiastically began to make additions. Sir John Stirling Maxwell was a family friend and he donated plant material from his home at Pollok, Glasgow.

During World War II the garden inevitably became overgrown through reduction in maintenance resources; however, Mr & Mrs Hugh Smith continued to plant. Since then the scrub invasion has gradually been cleared. Within the last seventeen years, their daughter, Mrs Faith Raven, has cleared, improved and diversified the garden. It was a feature in the book by her husband, Mr John Raven, 'A Botanist's Garden', published by Collins in 1970, which described many of the plants grown at Ardtornish and in their other garden at Docwra's Manor, Shepreth, Cambridgeshire.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Ardtornish House listed category A, was built between 1884-91 to the design of Alexander Ross. It is a three-storey, T-plan house with a triangular rear service court. The clock tower, which is included in the listing, dates from 1856-66 as part of the original house built by Octavius Smith although the roofline has been altered. It is thought that the designer of this house may also have been Alexander Ross. Flats in the house are now leased to holiday-makers. Ardtornish Castle is a 15th century tower-house, now in ruins.

Kinlochaline Castle lies to the west of Ardtornish Tower. The Estate Office and Manager's House, listed jointly category B, were built in 1880 by Samuel Barham on the site of the old Achranich Farmhouses. Other estate buildings to the east of the office are also of interest. The Barn/Byre, listed category C(S) dates from 1851. It is a long three-storey building with 11 bay north and south elevations. It is considered most unusual for this period.

The Ivy Bridge, listed category B, spans the River Aline close to Kinlochaline Castle (listed category B) and was built by Alexander Ross in 1880. Several other listed buildings exist on the estate outwith the policies of Ardtornish House. They include the farm steading, estate cottages, former schoolhouse and shepherd's cottage, all of which are listed category B, and a laundry listed category C(S).

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden lies on the southwest-facing slopes surrounding the house and Tower. Small streams run through it and these have been used effectively to create small ponds and water features. In 1930, when the garden was acquired by Mr & Mrs Hugh Smith, it was already planted with a wide variety of species including Eucryphia, Escallonia, Embothrium, Enkianthus, conifers and hybrid rhododendrons. Hostas, Lysichitums and other moisture-loving plants were established along the water margins. Much of the garden retained its Edwardian character. Features such as circular beds were removed and the garden developed with a much more informal character beneath a canopy of larch, fir and pine. Reduction in maintenance between 1939-45 resulted in invasion of birch and Rhododendron ponticum. Development since then has taken place by clearing gaps in the canopy exposing the original material and establishing new stock. Mr and Mrs Hugh Smith sought to further diversify the range of plants, particularly semi- tender exotics, including Eucryphia x Nymanensis `Nymansay', Hoheria lyallii and many others. Mrs Hugh Smith had a particular interest in species rhododendron and among those planted were R. ambiguum, R. decorum and R. campylocarpum. Rhododendron `Jock', named after the son-in-law of Sir John Stirling Maxwell, grows in abundance along the Keepers Path. cinnabarinum varieties were a special favourite and were planted throughout the garden. The range of species Rhododendron has been increased each year. The attempt is to grow colour forms together. Within the last twenty years, much new material has been introduced. The garden can now be considered as being composed of small character areas which include The Pond Garden, The Acer Burn, The Prunus Burn, Bob's Glen, The Alpine Meadow, Rhododendron Glen and The Primula Garden. The latter consists of mixed Primulas and peonies, and spiraeas at the foot of the steep slope to the south of the house. The effect when the plants are in flower is stunning. Between the steep bank and the house is a flat lawn with the remains of a rockery made from the rock displaced for the foundations of the house. The north-west corner of the garden has been dedicated to the memory of Mr John Raven and is planted with predominantly white flowering species. An area of birch between the house and a natural rock formation in the shape of an amphitheatre is currently being replanted with Nothofagus, liquidambar, Malus and Rhododendrons as well as different varieties of birch. The Eucryphias, Hoheri, Enkianthus and Rhododendron cinnabarinum varieties are considered to be specialities of the garden.

Walled Gardens

The kitchen garden lies to the south of the River Rannoch on the southern edge of the policies. Comparison of the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps indicates that it was constructed after 1872. Prior to this time, the house appears to have been served by a smaller garden which lay along the route of what is now the front drive.

The garden today is enclosed by walls on two sides; fences complete the square. It appears to have been continually kept up. A large proportion of the total area was planted with fruit trees in 1939. It is still well-stocked with produce although it is now leased as a market garden. A good mature Magnolia campbellii} occasionally flowers close to the old bothy, now converted into the Factor's residence.




Printed Sources

F. Raven - Garden Information Leaflet

HHC & G, 1984

G.A. Little, 1981


NMRS, Photographs

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

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Printed: 21/07/2024 04:37