Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
Dumfries And Galloway
NX 95102 82621
295102, 582621

An attractive designed landscape laid out in the 1850s, with additional gardens created by the Keswick family in the 1950s. It comprises parkland, woodland, an interesting shrub collection in a woodland garden, and some notable architectural features.

Type of Site

A 19th century designed landscape of parkland and woodland with the development of a woodland garden and additional gardens from the mid 1950s to the present.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1850s with additions and improvements in the 1950s.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

Although there are few early records of the designed landscape, the Garden Book of historical water-colours illustrates the more recent history of the grounds and the layout and planting give Cowhill high value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

The physical remains of the early fort, together with the available records and the long association with the Johnston and Keswick families, give Cowhill Tower high Historical value.


Level of interest

The garden records and the collection of rhododendrons and other interesting shrubs, together with imports of plants from the Far East, give Cowhill high Horticultural value.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the setting for a B listed mansion house, and has high Architectural value.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The policies at Cowhill are largely screened from view from the surrounding area, although the woodlands provide some scenic interest both from the access road and from across the River Nith.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The ponds and older areas of woodland add some Nature Conservation value to the surrounding area.

Location and Setting

Cowhill Tower is situated in Nithsdale, some 5 miles (8km) north-west of Dumfries. The River Nith forms the north-east boundary of the policies and the site of the original Borders tower was almost certainly chosen for its defensive position. The house is set above the river with extensive views along the valley to north-west and south-east. When clear, the views to the south-west extend to the hills of the Lake District. Views into the designed landscape are limited by the policy woodlands which are themselves a feature in the surrounding flat landscape.

The house is set on higher ground above the river whose course has been altered and straightened to the north of the house. To the south-east of the present mansion lie the remains of an earlier fortified tower also known as Cowhill Tower. The designed landscape is enclosed by the policy woodlands and extends southwards along the drive to the minor access road which links with the A76(T) to Dumfries. General Roy's map of 1750 marks Cowhill with a square plantation of woodland to its north and a square enclosure to its west. By the 1st edition OS map of 1850, the designed landscape had been laid out in a similar form to that which remains today. There are presently 204 acres (82ha) in the designed landscape.

Site History

The present mansion house was built in 1789 and has had several additions made to it, the only known architects are Walter Lyon for the 1871 additions and Peddie & Forbes Smith for the 1914 tower. The policy woodlands, walled garden and main drive were laid out by the 1850s, and the present gardens were laid out by Mr David Keswick from the 1950s.

The original fort at Cowhill was recorded prior to 1540; it was rebuilt in 1579 by the then laird, Maxwell of Cowhill. After suffering from Border raids in 1585, a new castle was built on a knoll to the south-east of the present mansion and it is the ruins of this castle that are visible in the policies today. In 1789 the new Cowhill Tower was built by Mr Johnston who was succeeded by Admiral Charles James Johnston, RN, commander of the HMS Cornwallis and Explorer. The gun barrels from the Cornwallis are mounted on either side of the front door of the mansion. His son, William, commissioned the architect, Walter Lyon, to carry out the baronial additions to the house. In 1914, Mr H. Keswick married the youngest daughter of William Johnston and they added the present tower. The house has twice suffered from fire in this century and has been restored with additions including the bow front above the terrace. Mr David Keswick succeeded in 1955 and he was responsible for redesigning the gardens and introducing some of the ornamentation to be found and also the topiary in the south of the policies. He also kept a Garden Book containing records of planting and watercolour paintings of the grounds dating back to the Johnston's time. The family have had connections over several generations with Jardine Matheson and have brought back both plants and garden ornamentation from the Far East. The present owners moved to Cowhill Tower in 1975 and have continued to develop the gardens.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Cowhill Tower is a mansion house dating from 1789 with Victorian and Edwardian additions and 20th century restorations; the tower at the north-east end was built in 1914 and it is listed B. There are ruins in the grounds of the earlier Castle which lay to the south-east of the present house. The Stables date from 1816 and are thought to have been built using stones from the earlier castle; they are listed B. There is a sundial dated 1763 and some Far Eastern garden ornamentation around the house. A delicate, wrought-iron tempietta stands to the east of the main drive near the east pond; it has six stone columns supporting the dome. Cowhill Lodges and gatepiers frame the entrance drive to the south; the lodges are one-storey, early/mid-19th century, and are listed B.


The main drive runs through areas of diverse landscape character on its route to the house, giving the impression of a much larger designed landscape. The parks are significant in this approach. A beech hedge divides the walled garden from the park to the south where new parkland trees have been planted and fenced in recent years. Specimen trees have been planted to the north- east side of the drive and these are significant in the views from the drive and from the house.


Cowhill Wood to the south end of the policies is open woodland, with beech, Scots pine and sycamore, some dating from c.1800, some from the early 1900s. Rhododendrons and other specimen shrubs have been planted around the two ponds and some Rhododendrons have colonised through the woods. There is a good ground flora with many wild flowers. To the south of the ponds within a clearing in the woods is a group of topiary in hawthorn representing a squirrel conducting an orchestra of birds and animals. A ride runs from this area to the south-east. Further north, along the drive at White Bridge, is a canalised section of burn, now somewhat silted at its west end. It has been planted up in the past with Azaleas, maples and Rhododendrons.

The Gardens

The gardens around the house are attractively designed in several different compartments. To the south-east, former front of the mansion is a long stepped terrace, laid out with well-trimmed lawns and surrounded by gravel paths. A cannon mounted on the terrace is a memento from one of Jardine Matheson's trading ships. The drive curves around the north of these terraced lawns then southwards to the ruins of Cowhill Castle. The east slope of the lawn has been planted with specimen trees and shrubs including Pieris formosa, Azaleas, holly and various specimen conifers. These have been planted to frame designed vistas when viewed from the house. One view from the drawing room window or terrace centres on the ruined castle while another looks due east across the river to the hills beyond.

A path leads from the old castle north to the stables and beyond them to the river bank. Along it has been planted an Avenue containing over 30 different varieties of rowans. The path extends north-west below the knoll on which the mansion is built to the tennis and squash court area, some of the earliest built in Scotland. Past the courts, the path circles round and below the house past the new indoor swimming pool to the walled garden.

Steps lead up to the house through the terraces to the rose garden and arches form an arbour above the steps. The terraces are planted with interesting trees and shrubs including Davidia involucrata, Eucryphia, species Rhododendron, and a Japanese Umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata). Fruit trees are also planted in this sheltered south-facing position. Additions are continually being made to the collection of plants. The rose garden is on the upper terrace near the house and it has been planted by Mrs Weatherall with hybrid tea roses. A fine Hoheriagrows on this upper terrace, and a path leads to the west of the house to the rockery designed by David Keswick which contains several eastern ornaments, including Chinese toads.

Walled Gardens

The walled garden lies to the south of the house and is kept up for vegetables and cut flowers. It has been divided into several compartments, including an orchard, a rock wall and a herb garden. It was let as a market garden during World War II and the dividing walls were put in afterwards. Box hedges further subdivide the compartments. The glasshouses contain a beautiful display of pot plants and Camellias.




Printed Sources

Inventory of Monuments in Dumfriesshire,p.105.

D. Keswick, Garden Book (at Cowhill Tower)

Pennants Tour 1789

Garden Leaflet

G.A. Little, 1981



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.

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Printed: 02/12/2022 11:59