- Local Authority
- NH 51863 54891
- 251863, 854891
A 17th century designed landscape with 18th and 19th century improvements, hosting a superb collection of specimen trees. With a long association with the Earls of Seaforth, the landscape comprises parkland, woodland and gardens, and it makes an important contribution to the surrounding scenery.
Type of Site
The 18th century formal layout provides the structural backbone to the estate, the parkland and extensive woodland, some dating from the late 17th century / early 18th century, making a distinctive contribution to the scenic quality of the locality and the woodland garden, developed along the course of Brahan Burn, hosts a superb collection of interesting trees and rare species.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
17th century, improved in the early 18th century and major improvements carried out in the early 19th century.
- Level of interest
The policies of Brahan have some value as a Work of Art in their present form; the focal point of the formal design was removed when the castle was demolished.
- Level of interest
Brahan was the seat of the Seaforth branch of the Mackenzie family and thus has outstanding Historical value.
- Level of interest
The collection of trees from the late 18th century and the early 20th century plantings give some value to the site. Many of the shrubs which were established in the Dell in the 19th century have gone.
- Level of interest
The castle has been demolished but the designed landscape provides a setting for B listed architectural features and has high Architectural value.
- Level of interest
- Not Assessed
- Level of interest
The woodland canopy and the open parkland are highly significant in the surrounding upland scenery.
- Level of interest
The 'ancient' woodland on Brahan Hill and the other old shelterbelt plantings provide habitats for a wide range of woodland flora, giving the policies some Nature Conservation value
Location and Setting
Brahan lies on the south-facing slope of Brahan Hill between the small town of Maryburgh in the east and Moy Bridge in the west, about 4 miles (6.5km) south- west of Dingwall on the A835. To the south, the park is bordered by the Conon River and, to the north, by the main road to the west between Maryburgh and Moy Bridge. Improvements to the A835 between Maryburgh and Moy Bridge are in progress at the present time and these cut into the northern edge of the policies. The surrounding landscape in the valley is mainly farmed except at the east end where the town of Maryburgh is beginning to encroach into the park. The climate is mild and the rainfall is moderate (32"/year). Magnificent upland scenery rises on all sides, except to the east above the Conon valley. The open landscape allows undisturbed views to the east to the Black Isle, south across to the Aird, and west along the Conon River to Strathconon. The parkland, bordered by the mature canopy of the shelterbelt, is highly significant in the landscape of the Conon valley.
Brahan lies within 1,295 acres (524ha) of designed landscape. Documentary evidence is provided by General Roy's plan dated c.1750 and the 1st & 2nd editions OS plans dated c.1860 and c.1900. Comparison between the available plans indicates that although the extent has remained consistent, there was considerable change in the late 18th century from the earlier formal design to the informal landscape. Family records lodged in the Scottish Record Office have not been inspected (ref SRO GD 46/1). A plan, dated 1798 but unsigned, is kept by the Estate which shows an area of some '160 Scots acres' of ornamental lawn which incorporated existing plantations and suggested the siting of a new pond made out of the Brahan Burn between the woodland garden and the River Conon. This does not appear to have been implemented nor, apparently, was the walled garden sited in the suggested position directly south-east of the new office courtyard. There are no other known plans or landscape designers involved.
The designed landscape was laid out in the 17th century and improved in the early 18th Century. Major improvements were carried out in the early 19th century and it was continuously cared for throughout the 19th & 20th centuries and up to the beginning of World War II.
The Castle was built by William, Earl of Seaforth, in c.1600. It was damaged in 1649 at the time his son the 2nd Earl tried to proclaim Charles II the King. The family followed the Stuart cause as a result of which William, the 5th Earl, forfeited the estates. General Wade began the 'pacification' of the Highlands in 1725 and made Brahan Castle his headquarters. By 1745 the estate had been sold back to the Dowager Countess whose son, Lord Fortrose, was in residence. The property was in considerable disrepair and Lord Fortrose undertook extensive improvements. His son, Kenneth, was created Earl of Seaforth and, on his death in 1781, the direct line died out. The property was inherited by a distant cousin who was raised to the peerage in 1797 as Lord Seaforth. He had plans drawn up to alter the Castle and planted many of the recently introduced trees particularly from North America. Dying without a male heir, he left the property to his daughters and the Stewart-Mackenzies managed it throughout the 19th century. The last Stewart-Mackenzie was created Baron Seaforth in c.1920 and on his death in 1922 left a complex will which still controls the inheritance today. The Castle was requisitioned during World War II after which it was returned to the Trustees who tried to find a tenant or a suitable use for it, but its condition was so poor that in 1952 it was demolished and the stables were converted into a residence. The present owners inherited the estate in 1963.
Brahan Castle, built in c.1600 by the 1st Earl of Seaforth, was demolished in 1952. It was remodelled in the late 18th century but not to the plans prepared by John Plaw in 1786 for a new villa and offices. Further modifications were undertaken during the 19th century. Brahan Castle Stables were converted into a house during the 1950s; they are currently being upgraded. Brahan Mains Square, listed category B, was built between 1787-88 by David Aitkin and the plans are held in the SRO. The Seaforth Monument, listed category B, was built in 1823 and is dedicated to the Hon. Caroline Mackenzie. The West Entrance Gatepiers and Gates, listed category C, were built in the early 19th century. The West Lodge was built in the 19th century and has suffered from the major road improvements of the A835 from Maryburgh to Moy Bridge. The East Lodge was built in the 19th century and is now a private house on the edge of Maryburgh. The North Lodge was built in the 19th century. The Gamekeeper's Lodge and Kennels were built in the 19th century and are still in use.
Mount Memorial, built in c.1922, contains the burial ground of the last Lord Seaforth; it is marked by a tomb with a large statue of an angel on top. Nearby are the headstones of the family dog graves. The Summerhouse was converted from a Gamelarder and is situated in the formal gardens of the Stables. The Kitchen Garden Walls were probably built in the late 18th century at the same time as the Mains.
The parkland was originally laid out in the 17th century by the 1st Earl. Much of the formal landscape shown on Roy's plan remains and forms the structural layout. Extensive avenues used to divide the park into four quarters, and in c.1820 shelterbelts were planted which cut across the quarters, further subdividing them. Two long avenues originally stretched to the north and south of the Castle. In the one to the north, oaks have been replaced with a mixture of lime, sycamore and Norway maple. The lower portion of the southern avenue has been removed and the rest of it is marked by one or two old oaks. The avenues to the east and west are less well defined as some trees have been incorporated into the woodland shelterbelts, others removed, and some have been replanted. However, there are still several fine specimen oaks remaining of the original planting. Two small sections of the original park remain to the north and south of the house and contain fine specimens of oak, horse chestnut, beech and one or two limes. The majority of the land is farmed for arable crops.
There are over 610 ha (1500 acres) of woodland on the Brahan estate. Brahan Hill has been planted up since the late 17th century / early 18th century as shown on General Roy's plan and there are still old oak stumps in it. It is now planted with conifers, mainly Norway and Sitka spruce and Douglas fir of between 60-70 years old. Another large block of woodland encloses the eastern end of the park and it has been recently planted with conifer and hardwood mix to produce a final crop of hardwoods. Some of the smaller woods have been replanted with oak, ash, poplar and Nothofagus (Southern beech) as part of a joint experiment with the Forestry Commission. The shelterbelts to the south and along the river are mainly hardwoods, particularly beech and oak, but there are also some magnificent old Scots pine, all planted c.1800.
Known as the Dell, the garden lies to the south of the Mains and extends along the course of the Brahan Burn. In the 19th century the water in the stream was increased by a supply taken from Loch Ussie which lies to the north of Brahan Wood. A knoll lying on the east bank of the burn is surrounded by a double circle of fine beech and enclosed by a thicket of Rhododendron ponticum. On it stands the burial ground of the last Lord Seaforth and nearby are the graves of the family dogs.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Brahan was famous for its 'extensive collection of exotic and hardy shrubs' and was mentioned in J.C. Loudon's 'Encyclopedia of Gardening' in 1824. Several lists exist of the plants growing at that time including 'American shrubs and plants most beautiful and very hardy' and 'exotic plants that have lived the winter' of 1811 such as Arbutus unedo (the Strawberry Tree) and Rosa indica. The planting in the Dell continued and today there is an interesting collection of trees, particularly conifers, planted c.1900. Some of the trees are still marked with their original labels. Over 113 trees were measured by Alan Mitchell in 1982, including some very fine Abies grandis, Cedrus libani, Araucaria araucana, a selection of Lawson Cypress varieties, several Japanese larches, a large Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir), and some tall Sequoiadendron gignateum (Wellingtonia). These are planted amongst the original woodland of oak, beech and sycamore dating from the latter part of the 18th century. There are also some Rhododendron species and Azaleas, with other shrubs growing underneath them. Along the stream, some of the tougher waterside plants such as Gunnera manicata have survived from the original water garden plantings.
The extensive formal gardens around the Castle have disappeared and only the flat lawns remain. Since 1952 a small garden has been created in front of the new house and planted up with herbaceous plants and small shrubs. During our visit it was in the process of being extended and a stone wall built using stone from the kitchen garden walls.
The large walled garden lies to the north-east of the Castle and was probably built at the same time as the Mains. It is shown in the 1st edition OS plan divided into four quarters. The Flower Garden ran along the western wall. Photographs show the extent and contents of the garden in the 1900s. The garden was abandoned about 50 years ago and all the glasshouses were removed. A small corner is still used to grow vegetables and the remainder grows crops of potatoes. A section of the wall has been removed so that it can be cultivated with modern farm machinery. About 30 years ago a crop of poplars was planted in the Flower Garden and the remnants of the box hedges can be seen under them. A fine cut-leaf lime, Tilia platyphyllus 'Laciniata' still grows amongst the trees though in a few years it will be overcrowded.