Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

Lochalsh Woodland WalksGDL00043

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NG 80076 27548
180076, 827548

Created by the plant-collector, E.H.M. Cox and the National Trust for Scotland, this site retains a collection of rhododendrons and other plants. The woodland canopy contributes major scenic value to the Lochalsh peninsula coastline.

Inventory record, inventory name and inventory boundary revised in 2018. Previously designated as Balmacara Estate (Lochalsh Woodland Garden)

Type of Site

Coastal woodland garden with path network

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1801-circa 1820s, 1880s, 1953-70, 1978-2008

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

In its present form, Lochalsh Woodland Walks retains much of its mid-later 20th century design. It is an example of a site acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in the post-war period and developed as a woodland garden and visitor attraction, with design and planting input from the plant collector, E.H.M. Cox (1893-1977).


Cox's involvement is of interest in this category. He achieved renown in horticultural circles for his early expedition with Reginald Farrer (1880-1920), his plant collecting, and his publications, including 'History of Scottish Gardening' published in 1935. Although mainly known for his plant collecting and books, he also developed the gardens at the family home (and later nursery business) at Glendoick, Perth and Kinross. Lochalsh Woodland Walks, therefore has some rarity value in being a surviving garden directly associated with E.H.M. Cox, who executed few garden schemes.


There is no evidence to suggest Lochalsh Woodland Walks has ever been considered outstanding as a work of art in its own right at a national level, nor performed a trendsetting role for later gardens elsewhere. However, positive accounts contribute some value in this category.  Online and written accounts from the later 20th century onwards celebrate the garden and woodland walks as a tourist destination, often as part of an itinerary of places to visit in this part of Scotland (Gillmore 2013, Louttit 1991: 255). As part of the wider Balmacara Estate, it has a gold award for Green Tourism (


Level of interest

Lochalsh Woodland Walks fits within a wider tradition of woodland gardens in Scotland. Created from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, often in west coast areas of Scotland, these gardens were planted with rhododendrons and other wild origin plant material derived from the China-Himalayan region.


Overall, Lochalsh Woodland Walks is a relatively modest example of this type of garden, with less diversity than gardens such as Arduaine (GDL00025), Ardkinglas and Strone (GDL00022), or Crarae (GDL00118) in Argyll in Bute.


The association with the plant collector, E.H.M. Cox (1893-1977), and contemporary plant hunting expeditions is of some interest in this category. In 1960, Cox sourced and sited specimen plants within the garden, with some originating from contemporary expeditions to Nepal and Upper Burma. The existence of records within the National Trust for Scotland Archives, including a list compiled in 1991 by Peter Cox to identify the horticultural collection, is of interest in this category.


Level of interest

Lochalsh Woodland Walks was designed by E.H.M. Cox and the National Trust for Scotland as a woodland garden specialising in five main plant types – hydrangea, rhododendron, hardy ferns, bamboo and fuchsia. There remains a good range of cultivars within these groups, and the Maddenia subsection of rhododendrons is particularly well represented. Some large specimens survive from E.H.M. Cox's plantings of around 1960, particularly within the rhododendron dell. Some of these can be traced to specific plant hunting expeditions from the 1950s (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland).


The specimen plants are labelled, and have been recorded as part of an ongoing project to identify and record the plant collection (information courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland 2017-18).


Further interest comes from the presence of ten specimen conifer trees planted at Lochalsh in the 1990s as part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh.


Level of interest

The woodland garden forms the setting for Lochalsh House, a substantial and relatively unaltered house built in the grounds of Balmacara House around 1884. It is the architectural focus for the surrounding garden design and planting. Other built elements including the piers and cottages contribute minor interest in this category.


Level of interest

There are no scheduled monuments within the inventory landscape.


A polished stone axe recovered from Lochalsh Woodland Walks indicates a degree of archaeological potential, which contributes minor interest in this category (Canmore ID 181931). As with all designed landscapes, there exists the potential for future research or investigation to reveal more information about the landscape over time.


Level of interest

This site has outstanding value for its contribution to the scenic quality of the landscape. Balmacara House and the canopy of the policy woodlands and Lochalsh Woodland Walks are prominent in views from the coast road to the south and the viewpoint on the lower slopes of Sgùrr Mòr to the east (NG 81119 27646). Together, the house and woodlands contrast with the surrounding seascapes, bare moorlands and rocky summits of this part of the Lochalsh peninsula, adding visual interest and variety to this coastal edge landscape.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The native perennial orchid, creeping ladies tresses (Goodyera repens), grows within the Scots pine woodland to the west of Lochalsh Woodland Walks. Classified as nationally scarce, the presence of this orchid is of interest in this category of assessment ( The garden areas and mature woodlands as a whole also provide habitat for a range of birds.


The southern boundary of the inventory site (which runs along the shoreline) abuts the edge of the Lochs Duich, Long and Alsh Reefs Special Area of Conservation and the Inner Hebrides and Minches candidate Special Area of Conservation. These designations, which relate to marine environments, lie outwith the inventory landscape and do not have a bearing on value in this category of assessment.

Location and Setting

Lochalsh Woodland Walks is set within the former estate grounds of Balmacara House on the south coast of the Lochalsh peninsula in the West Highlands of Scotland.


The wider landscape context for these grounds is the coastal fringes of the Lochalsh peninsula, with its open views across Loch Alsh to the Isle of Skye, and the hilly uplands and crofting grounds of the Balmacara Estate. The village of Kyle of Lochalsh is 4 km to the east.


The woodland garden occupies elevated, steep terrain above a rocky shoreline. Drives and paths within the garden are mainly aligned east to west, following the contour of the slope. The main building is Lochalsh House, which stands on a terrace just above the shoreline. To the east, there is a small hamlet called Glaick. Views from this landscape extend south over Loch Alsh and the Sound of Sleat, which separates the Isle of Skye from the mainland.


Looking towards this landscape, there are good views from the south and east, from the coast road and the viewpoint on the lower slopes of Sgùrr Mòr (NG 81119 27646). Balmacara House (outside of the amended designation boundary) is a prominent focal point in these views. The dense canopy of the mature policy woodlands and Lochalsh Woodland Walks is also a strong feature, contrasting with the surrounding bare moorlands and rocky summits. Lochalsh House is less visible due to the extent of the surrounding woodland cover. 


The designation boundary (as amended in 2018) includes the whole of the former Lochalsh Woodland Garden, renamed as Lochalsh Woodland Walks in 2009. It is bounded to the north by the modern A87, to the east by the outer edge of the entrance drive to Lochalsh House, to the south by the Mean High Water line, and to the west by the western property boundary of the garden.

Site History

The creation of Lochalsh Woodland Walks dates from 1953 onwards when it became a property of the National Trust for Scotland.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, this land was part of a much larger estate owned by the MacKenzie Earls of Seaforth. Building and planting work along the shore began after 1801, when Sir Hugh Innes (circa 1764-1831) bought the estate and built Balmacara House, becoming the first resident landowner. With a fortune likely derived from trade, Innes is known for his parliamentary career and his role in early 19th century changes to land and settlement (Miket 1998: 80;


Sources for the early estate landscape include an estate survey of 1807 and an aquatint of 1818 showing Balmacara House and the wooded backdrop that remains a strong scenic element of the landscape today (2018) (Blackadder 1807, in NTS 2001: 9; Daniell 1818).


With the early structure of an estate landscape in place, the next landowners were the Lillingstones (1831-50), the Mathesons (1850-1919), and the MacKinnon-Hamiltons (1919-46). Lochalsh House was built around 1884 in a plot of land retained by the Lillingstone family. Piers and jetties along the shoreline during this era provided anchorage for pleasure craft and longer-distance steamers (Ordnance Survey 1848-52; Miket 1998: 80). By the start of the 20th century, nearly all of the main buildings, roads and wooded areas of this landscape were in place (Ordnance Survey 1902).


The creation of a woodland garden dates from 1953 onwards when it became a property of the National Trust for Scotland. The Trust inherited Balmacara Estate in 1946 and Lochalsh House was offered to them in 1953. They gave permission for the plant collector, Euan Hillhouse Methven Cox (1893-1977), to create a woodland garden in the grounds around Lochalsh House.


E.H.M. Cox is known in horticultural circles mainly for his publications and plant collecting. He accompanied Reginald Farrer to Upper Burma in 1919 and subscribed to later expeditions by George Forrest (Urquhart 2010). He is also known for the early planting of the gardens at the Cox family home of Glendoick, Perth and Kinross from the 1920s onwards.


In 1960, working within the shelter of existing policy woodland at Lochalsh Woodland Garden, Cox planted Rhododendron prostitum and other large-leafed or tender varieties. His specimens derived from the work of field botanists, such as Adam Stainton, William Sykes and John Williams, who travelled to Central Nepal in 1954, and Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was in Upper Burma in 1954 (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland 2018).


From around this time the Trust's Garden Committee agreed that the principal plant components should be bamboo, fuchsia, hardy ferns, hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Between 1978 and 2008, with the appointment of garden staff, a new path network, replenished specimen trees, a horticultural collection and projects to improve small, individual character gardens, Lochalsh Woodland Walks became an established visitor attraction, often described in guides or suggested itineraries of Skye and Lochalsh (e.g. Louttit 1991).


From the 1990s, Lochalsh Woodland Walks joined the International Conifer Conservation Programme, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, and ten specimen conifers were planted (see under Woodland Garden). In 1991, E.H.M Cox's son, Peter Cox, visited the garden and helped identify and record plants that had survived from his father's original planting in 1960 – a valuable exercise for  subsequent efforts to record the horticultural collection (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland 2018).


Outside of the woodland garden, Balmacara House and its immediate grounds became a Boys Agricultural School (1950s-1970s), and then a Ministry of Defence centre for accommodation and training. Other changes included forestry restocking in the 1950s by the Forestry Commission. The new section of the A87 and a new cemetery on the east side of Balmacara Bay were both built in the 1970s.


In 2009, the National Trust for Scotland reclassified the site from a garden to woodland walks, and the site is now maintained for its paths and distinct walking environment within the wider Balmacara Estate (2018). As a whole, the Balmacara Estate has a gold award for Green Tourism (  


There is ongoing work to record and curate the plant collection within the garden, and to identify specimens that survive from the 1960 plantings by E.H.M. Cox. In 2016, a small percentage from around 540 rhododendrons were identified as being part of the original 1960 collection from Cox (2018), and have been traced to specific expeditions in the 1950s (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland 2018).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Set within the woodland garden to the west, Lochalsh House was built around 1884 for Katherine Lillingston. It is a 2-storey, asymmetrical-plan stone country house with crow-stepped gables and gothic details. A Coach House to the southwest is of similar date (Ordnance Survey 1902).


Other structures in this coastal landscape include two small piers, former boathouses and 19th century rendered cottages in Glaick, northeast of Lochalsh House.

Drives & Approaches

Historic maps show that the main drives in and around this landscape were in place by the later 19th century (Ordnance Survey 1880; 1902).


Access to Lochalsh Woodland Walks is via a minor road from the A87, which leads southwest and downhill from the direction of Balmacara Square. The minor road continues (with access to a modern carpark) before entering the main gates and drive for Lochalsh House.

Paths & Walks

Lochalsh Woodland Walks has a substantial network of footpaths, steps and drainage ditches. These were created by the National Trust for Scotland after 1953 as part of the development of the garden within the existing policy woodland around Lochalsh House. Extending from the carpark to the Scots pines at the western edge of the National Trust grounds, these paths run mainly east to west along the contours of the slope, with shorter link sections winding up or downslope. Colour-coded trails suggest particular routes, with the 'pine trail' leading to a western viewpoint over Loch Alsh. At the time of the site visit, some shorter link paths were no longer actively maintained (2017). Other sections of the path were temporarily closed for eradication of Phytophthora ramorum (a fungus-like pathogen that causes damage and disease to a wide range of plants and trees) (see Condition and Integrity, below).


Tree cover extends from the shoreline of Loch Alsh to around 120m above sea level. Scots pine dominates in the west part of Lochalsh Woodland Walks while beech and oak are more common northeast of Lochalsh House. North of the A87 (beyond the current inventory boundary), older specimens of beech and Scots pine stand among areas restocked with conifers during the 20th century.


These woodlands provide the setting for Lochalsh Woodland Walks and form an important scenic element in longer distance views from the south and east. The mixed, textured woodland canopy adds visual interest, contrasting with the bare moorland summits of this coastal edge landscape.


The extent of woodland in this landscape remains similar to that established by former Balmacara estate landowners in the 19th century. Sustained woodland planting around Balmacara House likely took place in the early 19th century during the ownership of Hugh Innes. An estate map of 1807 indicates some areas of planting, while William Daniell's aquatint of 1818 shows trees extending around the house and along Balmacara Bay (Daniell 1818). By the 1870s, tree-cover was well-established (Ordnance Survey 1880; Potter 1877: 67). Further planting probably also took place around the mid-1880s to create shelter for the new Lochalsh House (National Trust for Scotland 2001: 34). From 1953 onwards, the existing policy woodlands provided the setting for the development of the present woodland garden.

Woodland Garden

Lochalsh Woodland Walks occupies elevated, sloping terrain above Balmacara Bay. Owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland, it is set in policy woodland around Lochalsh House. Footpaths and steps link different garden areas including a sunken garden, rhododendron dell or glade, and a western viewpoint out over Loch Alsh (see below for descriptions).


Overall, the general structure and plant collection reflects the 1950s-70s development of the garden by the National Trust for Scotland and the plant collector, E.H.M. Cox, with further additions or changes dating to the late 20th century. Within the woodland setting, the main specimen plant groups remain bamboos, fuchsias, hardy ferns, hydrangeas and rhododendrons, with a special emphasis on the Maddenia subsection of rhododendrons.


Since 2009, the woodland garden has been maintained as a network of walks rather than as a garden (2017). In 2016, National Trust staff surveyed the woody plant collection in order to update existing records and to identify rhododendrons that formed part of Cox's original 1960 collection. Twenty one specimens were identified with certainty and included Rhododendron augustinii, Rhododendron campanulatum, Rhododendron cinnibarinum, Rhododendron johnstoneanum, Rhododendron protistum and Rhododendron thomsonii (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland 2018).


Ten rare conifer trees within the woodland garden were introduced in the 1990s as part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh. These were Cupressus gigantea (2 accessions), Chamaecyparis formosensis (2 accessions), Chamaecyparis obtusa var formosana (3 accessions) and Pinus armandii var mastersiana (3 accessions) (information courtesy of National Trust for Scotland 2018).


Sunken garden: Adjacent to Lochalsh House and within its former quarry site, this sheltered garden is formed by an oval lawn edged by herbaceous borders and specimen trees. There are hostas, ferns, bamboo, a gunnera, and the main hydrangea collection. This garden was altered in the late 20th century, with the creation of the herbaceous border, a small pond, and terraces that lead down to the shoreline (NTS 2001: 33).


Rhododendron dell: West of Lochalsh House in a sheltered pocket of the woodland garden, stepped footpaths intersect beneath the canopy of mature Scots pine and larch. This area is best known for its collection of mature evergreen and deciduous rhododendron specimens, several of which were planted by E.H.M. Cox in around 1960. Rhododendron falconeri, Rhododendron sinogrande, and Rhododendron barbatum are located here.


West viewpoint: The elevated western edge of the woodland garden is distinctive for its mature Scots pine woodland, outcrops of bedrock, and the viewpoint out over Loch Alsh. The nationally scarce native perennial orchid, creeping ladies tresses (Goodyera repens), grows within this wood.



Canmore: ;

Maps and archives

Ordnance Survey, Ross and Cromarty Ordnance Survey Name Books 1848-52: Volume 19, p.84

Ordnance Survey, Ross and Cromarty Ross-shire Sheet CXXII.8

Survey date: 1875 Publication date: 1880

Ordnance Survey, Ross and Cromarty Sheet CXXII (includes: Lochalsh; Strath)

Publication date: 1905 Date revised: 1902

Ordnance Survey, Ross and Cromarty Sheet CXXIII (includes: Glenshiel; Lochalsh)

Publication date: 1905 Date revised: 1902

Daniell, W. (1818), 'Balmacarro House. Loch-Alsh. Roshire' Digital image available as DP007222,

Printed sources

Greenoak, F. (2005), The Gardens of the National Trust for Scotland, Aurum Press: London

Louttit, J. (1991) Bantam's Scotland Random House:

Miket, R. (1998), Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh – gateway to the Isle of Skye: An historical introduction,

Potter, J. D. (1877), Sailing directories of the West Coast of Scotland, Part II, Hydrographic Department, Great Britain

Stanton, C. (1996) Skye and Lochalsh landscape assessment. Scottish Natural Heritage Review. No 71.

The National Trust for Scotland (undated) 'The Birds of Balmacara Estate; Habitats and species list'

The National Trust for Scotland (2001), Balmacara Estate and Lochalsh Woodland Garden, National Trust for Scotland

Urquhart, S. (2005), The Scottish Gardener, Birlinn: Edinburgh

Online sources

Balmacara Estate and Lochalsh Woodland Garden, [accessed 09/01/2018]

Gillmore, S (2013) 'Top 10 days out in Lochalsh' The Guardian [accessed 09/01/2018]

The History of Parliament: [accessed 09/01/2018]

Watson Featherstone, A, 'Creeping ladies tresses, [accessed 09.01.2018].

Urquhart, S (2010), Cox, Euan Hillhouse Methven (1893-1977), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

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Distant view of Balmacara House (centre white house) and Lochalsh Woodland Garden from the east, on a clear day with blue sky.
Scots pine woodland in Lochalsh Woodland Garden, on a clear day, with background view of sea inlet of Loch Alsh
East elevation of Lochalsh House and sunken garden.

Printed: 07/12/2023 19:30