Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
NH 48626 59329
248626, 859329

A long established designed landscape centered on a medieval castle, which makes a major contribution to the scenery of Strathpeffer and the Highland Railway. It also contains an outstanding tree collection dating from the 16th century.

Type of Site

A long established designed landscape centered on a medieval castle.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

17th and mid 19th century.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The considered siting of the Castle, in particular its relationship to the surrounding woodlands gives it some value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

The continuity of control and involvement of the MacKenzie family and Earls of Cromartie for over 400 years and prominent role of some of its members, together with the archival history of the Cromartie estates gives the site outstanding Historical value.


Level of interest

The tree collection, which includes significant specimens and ancient specimen trees gives this site outstanding Horticultural value.


Level of interest

The age and architectural quality of Castle Leod as an extended 16th/17th century tower house gives the site high Architectural value.


Level of interest

The potential interest of a Pictish settlement site, standing stones and the medieval Castle with associated landscape, give the site high Archaeological value.


Level of interest

The picturesque landscape composition and the site's contribution to the long-established tourist area of Strathpeffer give this site high Scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The combination of woodland, parkland and wetland habitats, gives this site some Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Castle Leod lies 1km (0.5 mile) north-east of Strathpeffer, directly north of the A834 Dingwall-Strathpeffer road. The Highland Railway forms the north boundary of the designed landscape. The Peffery Burn forms the eastern boundary and the parklands extend westwards to the lower slopes of Cnoc Aulaidh and Torr.

The designed landscape extends across the lower northern slopes and floor of the River Peffery valley. It contributes greatly to the landscape character of the area being highly prominent, from both the A834 and the Highland Railway. Views from the Castle to the south are quite extensive.

The Castle Leod designed landscape is part of the once-extensive Cromartie Estates. Comparison of a c 1760 survey (John Leslie) with the 1st and 2nd edition OS Maps (1873 and 1904 respectively) indicates the extent of the parklands and policies of Castle Leod to have changed little since their establishment.

Site History

John of Killin, 10th Chief of MacKenzie (1485-1561), fought at Flodden and acquired extensive lands, including Castle Leod. He is said to have planted two Spanish chestnuts in 1556, which still stand in the park, to mark the confirmation of sasine of Castle Leod by Mary Queen of Scots (Clough, 1990, p.1). On his death, the MacKenzie estates passed in short succession to his son Kenneth (d.1568), grandson Colin (d.1568) and great grandson Kenneth, 13th Chief and 1st Lord of Kintail (d.1611).

It was Kenneth who, in 1608, granted his younger brother Roderick MacKenzie (d.1628), the lands of 'Cultelloud' (Gifford 1992, p.392). Marriage with Margaret MacLeod, heiress of Lewis, brought him the Barony of Coigach in 1606. He extended the Castle, marking the date of their marriage over the renaissance door. Completion of the works was celebrated by their initials on the dormers on the north elevation. He added the lands of Tarbat, Easter Ross to the Castle Leod property in 1623.

Few changes were made to the Castle or formal landscape, which surrounded it during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Castle built on a mound, stood on the lower slopes of the Peffery Valley. Beneath it, to its east, was a walled garden, orchard and associated buildings and to the west was a park with a shelter belt of ash extending around the west and south west sides of the Castle. The principal landscape feature was a formal grass ride, lined by a triple avenue and centered on a north-south axis with the Castle. During this period the main drive approached from the east, crossing over the Peffery Burn which formed the eastern parkland boundary.

Sir George, Viscount Tarbat, Lord MacLeod and Castlehaven (1632-1714), was created Earl of Cromartie in 1703. Despite having fallen from royal favour in 1664, his political fortune rose rapidly on Lauderdale's decline. He became Privy Councillor, Lord of Session and Lord Register Clerk of Scotland under James II; adviser to the Crown under William and Mary, and Secretary of State under Queen Anne. He carried out extensive building works at New Tarbat (see Tarbat House) and at Royston House (his Edinburgh home). He died at Castle Leod in 1714. By 1717 Castle Leod was said to be in a ruinous state and its policies in bad condition but by 1725 John the 2nd Earl (1660-1731), was living at Castle Leod and his heir, George, Lord Macleod and his wife Isabella Gordon, of Invergordon lived at New Tarbat.

Between 1731-40, George MacKenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie (1704-61), introduced land improvement and some renovations to the mansions at New Tarbat and Castle Leod, including enclosures at Castle Leod Mains, and tenancy reforms. However, this period of revival was curtailed in 1741 by famine on the estate, Crown debts and Cromartie's imprisonment in 1745 for his part in the Jacobite rising. The Tarbat Estates were occupied by the Forfeited Estates Commissioners who used the Castle as a billet and girnel.

In 1784, following a successful military career, John MacKenzie, Lord MacLeod (d.1789), regained the Tarbat Estates, although not his title. Leaving no issue, the estate passed by terms of entail to a series of family members, and steadily became encumbered with financial commitments and annuities due to family members. In 1849 Anne Hay MacKenzie (1829-88)] married George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Marquis of Stafford and shortly afterwards inherited the Tarbat Estates. She became the Duchess of Sutherland and, in her own right, Countess of Cromartie, Viscountess of Tarbat, Baroness Castlehaven and Baroness MacLeod of MacLeod. The marriage released capital for investment in the Cromartie estates, although they were encumbered by large debts incurred in the 1820-30s, which could not be serviced from estate revenue. Interest in the development and improvement of property led to numerous estate buildings being constructed in the mid to late 19th century.

Castle Leod was described in 1857, as an impressive building needing improvement, but this was not a priority. George Loch, the factor, wrote that 'The entrance would look better, were the flanking walls on either side to be rebuilt – but your Lordship and Lady Stafford would hesitate to lay out money for an object of this kind, that will merely gratify the eye' (Richardson and Clough 1989, p.250). Expenditure was aimed at productive investment to establish an economic balance to estate expenses. Castle Leod, one of innumerable properties on the Sutherland and Cromartie estates, was occupied on an occasional basis during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nevertheless, the mid to late 19th century was a significant period of landscape development. It is probably during this period that the Walled Garden, Orchard and associated buildings east of the Castle were cleared, in order to create an informal and picturesque setting for the Castle. Extensive parkland was established and woodlands throughout the policies included many exotic trees. The Main Drive, which had been routed along the earlier formal ride south of the Castle in the early 1800s, was altered to lead in a wide sweep up to the Castle. Early 19th century topographical illustrations of Castle Leod indicate that during this period, the Castle mound was modified so as to create the existing irregular terrace below the Castle.

On the death of the Countess in 1888, the Tarbat Estates passed to her second surviving son, Francis and then, in 1893, to his daughter Lady Sibell Lilian MacKenzie. She married Colonel Edward Walter Blunt-MacKenzie and lived only periodically at Castle Leod. During their absence, the Castle was let. The Countess' son Roderick Grant Francis MacKenzie (b.1905) lived all his life there. The Castle remains in private ownership.

Further developments to the designed landscape have been the introduction of a cricket ground, over 100 years ago, and associated pavilions, built in the 20th century, within the south eastern corner of the parkland. Highland Games have been held there since the 19th century.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Castle Leod is an L-plan, five storey, tower house dating from c 1480. It has an open parapet and angle bartizans and is built of red rubble with ashlar dressings. Additions of 1616 resulted in the re-entrant angle being infilled to produce a more symmetrical frontage. The parapet above was covered and carried up another storey which has ornamental dormers and conical-roofed turrets. An extensive, two storey Scots Baronial wing was added to the rear of this block in the mid 19th century. The area adjacent to the Castle incorporates formalised grass terraces.

The Gate Lodge, Gate Piers and Gates were built c 1840. The Gate Lodge is a single storey T-plan building of coursed rubble and ashlar dressings with a symmetrical east facade and exaggerated finialed skewputs at the gables. The square rusticated Gate Piers support shallow ashlar pyramidal caps. The Keepers Cottage is occupied, but the adjacent kennels are disused. The stables occupying lower ground is in residential use. South-west of the Caste is a small graveyard with rubble gate piers.

Walls to the south and west define the boundaries of the designed landscape; a long curving ha-ha forms the main boundary to the west of the Castle. The A834 roadside perimeter to the south is defined by a mortared rubble wall. Beyond, free-standing drystone walls to the south define other field boundaries. A standing stone is situated in the parkland east of the Main Drive.

Drives & Approaches

The Main Drive is accessed directly from the A834. It comprises a formal 17th century avenue made up of double and triple rows of lime and sycamore, which lead directly to the Castle. The Castle terminates the vista along the avenue. The drive leaves the avenue to swing eastwards and terminates on the north side of the Castle.

The North Drive leads from the village of Achterneed into the north part of the designed landscape. It crosses the Peffery Burn then leads along the valley north-west towards higher ground. A network of drives branch off to lead southwards and give access to estate cottages and the sawmill. Three routes lead off, all approach the Castle from the north through ornamental woodland.

Routes led into the designed landscape from the east but are no longer in use.


Areas of parkland extend across the lower, flatter ground between the Castle and the main road (A834). The Main Drive divides the parklands into the East and West Parklands. The East Parks are grazed and contain many fine, mature, specimen trees including a 16th century sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), and limes (Tilia europaea), Douglas fir and oaks. A standing stone is situated close to the Main Drive, in the north of the East Parklands.

Tree planting in the West Parks is generally sparser and there are rough, wet grasslands. The areas south of the Castle contain some significant specimens of oak trees and an ancient sweet chestnut. Fences subdivide the parklands; to the east fence lines roughly follow the line of lost access routes.


The woodlands are predominantly ornamental and contain many exotic broadleaves and specimen conifers, several of notable size. These include massive sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum and Sequoia sempervirens), Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), firs and spruce (Abies procera and Picea sitchensis). There are also Monkey puzzles (Araucaria araucana), cedars (Cedrus deodara and Cedrus atlantica), limes (Tilia europaea), maples (Acer cappadocicum and Acer pseudoplatanus), horse chestnuts, beech and elm (Ulmus glabra). There is a Spanish Chestnut which was planted in honour of Mary Queen of Scots in 1552. Other trees date mainly from the 1850s.

The Gardens

Castle Leod sits on a mound, modified in the 19th century to create two terraces. Large Irish Yews frame the upper, Castle Terrace. Below this is a grass terrace roughly rectangular in plan, which comprises the front 'lawn' of the Castle. It is believed that this lawn marks the site of a Pictish settlement. The north western part of this terrace has been enclosed and cultivated as a small flower garden. To the east of the Castle Terrace is a huge lime tree encircled by a ring of mature layered stems.

Walled Gardens

A contemporary 'Kitchen Garden' has been developed to the east of the Castle occupying part of the site originally enclosed within the Walled Garden.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey, 1747-1755

1762 Survey of the Barony of Castle Leod: Private collection

1873 survey, 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1881

1876 survey, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25"), publication date n/a

1904 survey, 2nd edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1907

Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Monuments Record of Scotland: Photographic collection; Castle Head (Cromartie Drawings)

Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI), Trees at Castle Leod Survey, 1985


Printed Sources

Historic Scotland on Behalf of the Scottish Ministers, The List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest

Forman, S. Scottish Country Houses and Castles (1967), pp.147-9

Gifford, J. The Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands (1992), pp.392-3

Groome, F. Ordnance Gazetteer (1882), p.250

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, D. and T. The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland from the Earliest Christian Times to the Seventeenth Century, vol. 3 (1896-7), pp. 625-8

Patulo, N. Castles, Houses and Gardens in Scotland (1967), p.29

Richardson, E. and Clough, M. Cromarty: Highland Life 1650-1914 (1989)

Stell, G. and Baldwin, J.K. Architecture and Society in Easter Ross before 1707 (1986)

Tranter, N. The Fortified House in Scotland, vol. 4 (1962-70), pp.160-3

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.

The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important gardens and designed landscapes. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We add sites of national importance to the inventory using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

The information in the inventory record gives an indication of the national importance of the site(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the site(s). The format of records has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

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Printed: 17/04/2024 14:24