Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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


Date Added
Local Authority
NJ 50779 65840
350779, 865840

A good example of a predominantly informal 18th century landscape planned by Thomas White (Senior), overlaying an earlier formal 17th century design. The landscape is also outstanding for its scenic qualities and historic development.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The 18th century designed landscape at Cullen has outstanding value as a Work of Art although parts of it have since been lost.


Level of interest

Cullen has outstanding Historical value due to its associations with the Earls of Findlater and Seafield and the documentary evidence of its development.


Level of interest

There appears to be at least some Horticultural interest in the Pinetum and wild garden at Cullen and this value may increase as the restoration work progresses.


Level of interest

Cullen has outstanding Architectural value as it provides the setting for category A listed buildings.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The policies of Cullen have outstanding Scenic value in the surrounding landscape.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

There is some Nature Conservation value in the presence of the established woodland cover and the burns.

Location and Setting

Cullen House is situated on the south-west edge of the town of Cullen on the flat coastal plain of the Moray Firth. The town is situated around Cullen Bay, an inlet of the North Sea. The A98(T) road forms the north-west boundary of the policies. The Deskford Burn cuts through the polices in a deep ravine to the west of the house before flowing out into Cullen Bay. To the south-west of Cullen House the Bin of Cullen rises to a height of 1059' (320m) and forms a significant feature in the surrounding landscape as well as providing a navigational marker from the sea. In addition, the policy wall, woodlands and the Temple contribute to the scenic significance of the designed landscape.

The setting of the policies on the coastal plain renders them relatively inward looking and views out to the surrounding agricultural land and woodland of the Bin of Cullen are gained from only some points within the site.

Cullen House is situated some 70' above the Deskford Burn amid some 843 acres (341ha) of designed landscape which extends north-west to the A98(T) and north- east to the town at Grant Street. To the east the policies extend to the B9018 at Lintmill and south to the woodlands of the Bin of Cullen. Reference to General Roy's map of c.1750 indicates that the designed landscape was established to this extent by this time.

More detailed information is provided on a survey plan of 1764 by Peter May, commissioned after extensive improvements had been made by the 4th and 5th Earls of Findlater after 1698. The plan shows the large formal grid of rides on the west bank of the Deskford Burn with a broad 'Principal Avenue' extending south-west in line with the house, beyond the Bridge designed by William Adam in 1744. Alan Tait (The Landscape Garden in Scotland, 1980) noted that Robert Robinson worked at Cullen in 1764 and prepared some proposals. Between 1764 and 1878, the date of the 1st edition OS map, the landscape was informalised; the woodland was extended into one of the open square fields between the grid of rides whilst, in others, the Home Farm, kitchen garden, nursery areas and a large fish pond were sited.

In the early 19th century the village was moved and an agricultural belt was extended between the policies and the new town. A long west drive was added from the house, through the wood and fields beyond to the main Elgin Road. The 1st edition OS map of 1878 incorporates the last main phase of development at Cullen c.1860 and there is little change in the structure of the landscape between then and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1910.

Site History

The survey plan of 1764 by Peter May shows a formal design. The landscape was informalised prior to 1878, possibly by Robert Robinson, and designs were also drawn up by Thomas White in 1789-90. Many architects have also been involved at Cullen, including William Adam, Robert Adam, James Playfair and David Bryce.

The earliest records of a house at Cullen go back to 1232. Originally, it belonged to the St Clair family but later passed to the Ogilvies. In 1543 the Collegiate Church of Cullen was founded and its canons were provided with an apartment and garden on the site. Parish records show that in 1600 the Laird's House at Cullen was begun.

This laird, Walter Ogilvie, was created Lord Ogilvie in 1616 and his son, James, was created Earl of Findlater in 1638. The 3rd Earl, who succeeded in 1669, made some additions to the house but his plans were not nearly as ambitious as those of his son who was created 1st Viscount Seafield in 1698 before succeeding his father as 4th Earl of Findlater in 1711. His improvements were continued by the 5th Earl and appear on a survey plan by Peter May commissioned in 1764, the year of the 5th Earl's death. The 6th Earl held the title for only six years before his death but was a keen agricultural improver in his time. The 7th Earl of Findlater, 4th Earl of Seafield, inherited the estates in 1770 at the age of twenty. He lived abroad much of his life following his marriage in 1779 but nevertheless took a keen interest in all decisions concerning the estate. Robert Adam was commissioned to prepare a plan for a new house whilst James Playfair was asked to prepare alterations to the design of the existing house. Thomas White prepared plans for the policies in 1789-90 in which Adam's designs for the site of a new house, circular office block and stable-block were incorporated and, whilst these particular ideas were not taken up, their suggestion of resiting the village of Cullen from around the church to its present situation around the harbour was acted on, although not until some years later.

The Earldom of Findlater became extinct on the death of the 7th Earl in 1811 when his cousin, Sir Lewis Alexander Grant of Grant succeeded as 6th Earl of Seafield. He too was a great agricultural improver and was responsible for moving the village and enlarging the harbour. Both he and the 7th Earl of Seafield, who succeeded in 1853, were known as the greatest planters in the district during their time as lairds. The 7th Earl commissioned David Bryce to design extensive Victorian additions and alterations to the inside of the house. Some of the interior work was later removed by the 11th Earl of Seafield's daughter who inherited the estates in 1915. During her time the gardens were well maintained but, in the latter years of her life and after her death in 1969, the estate went into a period of decline. The appointment of a new factor in the early 1970s however reversed this trend; a series of changes made included the sale of the house and 17 acres of ground to Mr Kit Martin in 1983. Since then, he has divided the house and service buildings into separate dwellings which have been purchased by private owners who retain communal ownership of the woodland garden in the ravine below the house. Lord Seafield succeeded in 1969 and lives on the estate at Old Cullen.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Cullen House, listed category A, dates from the 17th century with alterations made in 1711 by Smith and McGill, in 1767 by James Adam, in 1859 by David Bryce, and in 1983 by Kit Martin assisted by Douglas Forrest. The Parish Church, cruciform on the plan, is also listed category A and dates from the 16th century. The Stables, listed category B, date from the 18th century. Old Cullen House, listed B, has recently been renovated as a residence for the Earl of Seafield. Seatown Lodge stands at the north drive on the A98T. The main gate and twin lodges stand at the east entrance; they are listed A and were designed by James Adam c.1767. The Bridge over the ravine of the Deskford Burn, listed category B, was built to the design of William Adam in 1744. Lintmill Lodge stands on the drive from the village of Lintmill which lies south-east of the house. The Temple of Pomona stands on Castle Hill at the northern edge of the site. It was built in 1821 by William Robertson, apparently from a design by James Playfair made some 20 years earlier and it has recently been restored. The Home Farm Square is dated 1816.


There are two areas of parkland at Cullen House; that to the east of the house lies on the site of an area indicated as kitchen garden on the survey plan of 1764 but which had assumed its present form by the time of the 1st edition OS map. The parkland to the west of the house lies between the Deskford Burn and the Home Farm. It is derived from three of the grid squares shown on the 1764 map which were informalised in the late 18th & early 19th century. Conifers have recently been planted along the middle part of the long west drive through the park which was added as part of the Thomas White improvements. Many deciduous species have recently been planted within the parks.


The policy woodlands of Cullen extend along the banks of the Deskford Burn, east along the drives, and south-west across the Bin of Cullen. They appear to have been well established by the mid-18th century. Bishop Pocoke, in 1760 described 'pleasant winding walks through wood, partly in site of river and partly at a distance'.

In 1847, the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland recorded that some 31,686,482 young trees had been planted over 8,223 acres, and included 'Scotch firs, larch and hardwoods'. J.C. Loudon in 1824 described Cullen as being 'remarkable for its fine old woods, the late Earl being one of the most extensive planters in the country'.

The majority of the woodlands sited on the Bin of Cullen, are coniferous of mixed age between 10-50 years. Those on either side of the Deskford Burn are mixed deciduous of ages ranging from young saplings to trees of c.250 years. Many parks are overgrown by seedling birch and .

The avenue along the east drive has been replanted with sycamore, horse chestnut and beech trees. Measurements of the ornamental conifers in the Pinetum area of the woodland were taken by Alan Mitchell in 1971. Further measurements taken by him in 1985, this time including ornamental deciduous trees, would indicate that many of the conifers were lost in the interim period. However, there is still a range of interesting trees here.

Woodland Garden

The wild garden is situated in the hollow to the west of Cullen House on the bank of the Deskford Burn. A circular 'pleasure ground' is marked on the site on the May survey of 1764. Alan Tait noted that the 7th Earl of Findlater issued instructions to the gardener in 1780 to 'plant American oak, chestnut, walnuts etc.' and that references were also made to a Chinese Bridge, a little moat, and the formation of a kind of shrubbery. An account of 1782 described how 'the sides of the den were covered with all kinds of trees and shrubs, through which serpentine gravel walks have been made'. Many Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other ornamental shrubs and trees were planted in the late 19th century and, as a result of a period of neglect between 1960-80, the area became considerably overgrown. The area which has been purchased with the house is in the process of being cleared and early editions of OS maps are being used to aid the restoration of footpaths.

Walled Gardens

The survey plan of 1764 shows an extensive series of kitchen gardens to the east of the house. These were swept away in the improvements made c.1800 following the proposals by Thomas White and the present walled garden was established. The 1st edition OS map shows it to be laid out in a series of eight equal compartments with three ranges of glasshouses along the south face of the north wall. An account of the garden in 1954 describes it as 'flourishing in orderly profusion' under the direction of the late Countess of Seafield. Since her death in 1969, the flower garden has gone. Fruit trees remain on the walls and a new house has been incorporated in the west wall facing into the walled enclosure which is now grazed by cattle.




Printed Sources

CL, v 20, 1906, p.378

S. Forman, SM, 1954

C.A. Ritchie, Cullen House, Pilgrim Press

New Statistical Account

Gazetteer of Modern Farm Buildings

J.C. Loudon, 1824

Marcus Binney, CL, Dec 19th & 26 1985

Estate Plans at Cullen House and Cullen

Estate Office

A.A. Tait, 1980

A. Mitchell, Tree Survey 1971



NMRS, Photographs

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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.

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Printed: 29/02/2024 22:24