Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
Perth And Kinross
Blair Atholl
NN 81909 66570
281909, 766570

A dramatic late 18th-century picturesque and sublime landscape, the Falls of Bruar are of outstanding national importance in the context of the development and appreciation of the picturesque landscape in Scotland and the UK.

Type of Site

A dramatic late 18th-century picturesque and sublime landscape

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1796 and 1947

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The picturesque nature of this site gives it outstanding value as a work of art.


Level of interest

The Duke of Atholl's place in Scottish forestry history and his associations with this site, together with the associations with Robert Burns, give the Falls of Bruar outstanding historical value.


Level of interest

This site has outstanding horticultural value because of its place in Scottish silviculture history.


Level of interest

In the context of the history of picturesque and sublime landscape, the bridges and other built features have high architectural value.


Level of interest

The remains of picturesque viewing houses and the pathway system give this site some archaeological value.


Level of interest

The views of the site in relation to the surrounding countryside give it high scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

There is some nature conservation interest in the largely birch, hazel and pine woodland in the gorge, but the area is otherwise relatively species poor.

Location and Setting

The Falls of Bruar lie to the west of Blair Castle off the B8079, and just off the A9. House of Bruar, a modern shopping complex has been built at the site's southern boundary and the Highland Railway cuts across the southern tip of the site.

The main views of the various waterfalls falls at Glen Bruar are contained within the site. The view from the Upper Bridge looks down over the water course and over the treetops to the mountains beyond.

In 1796, the 4th Duke of Atholl, the 'Planting Duke' began laying out a 'wild garden' around Bruar with paths and bridges affording the safest and best views of the spectacular waterfalls. The paths today follow the same routes as laid out in the late 18th century and concentrate around the Water of Bruar. There are thick plantations on either side. The extent of the designed landscape remains similar to that shown on the 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6”), 1867.

Site History

The planting of the Falls of Bruar, the laying out of paths, and the building of bridges and viewhouses are said to be the result of Petition of Bruar Water to the Noble Duke of Athole, written by Robert Burns in 1787 after a brief Highland tour. Burns was impressed by the scenery at Bruar but felt that the planting of trees would improve and enhance it:

'My Lord, I know, your noble ear

Woe ne'er assails in vain; Embolden'd thus, I beg you'll hear

Your humble slave complain

How saucy Phebus' scorching beams,

In flaming summer-pride,

Dry-withering, waste my foamy streams,

And drink my crystal tide.'

John, 3rd Duke of Atholl, promoted the planting of larch for forestry purposes, and did so assiduously on his extensive lands. The 4th duke, John, known as 'Planter John', continued his father's work, replacing many Scots pine with larch. Between 1796 and 1799 he planted up the area around the Bruar with Scots pine, larch, and spruce. Thomas Hunter in his Woods, Forests and Estates of Perthshire, 1883, notes that 'most of the trees originally planted at Bruar have been blown down by gales between 1879 and 1883, and the ground is now being replanted'. Tree plantations were also felled during World War II, and their replanting gives the area the tree cover that it has today. The Blair estate has considerably extended the plantations to the east which lie outwith the designed landscape.

The Falls of Bruar were an important site in the itinerary of those making tours of the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries and are well recorded in journals of the time. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the site in 1844, with the Queen being carried up the steep paths in her garden chair. The artist J.M.W. Turner and the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were also amongst the most famous visitors. One of the first recorded visits was in 1798 by the physician Thomas Garnett, accompanied by an artist, W H Watts. Garnett noted:

'We went up the left bank of the river, whose channel is the most rugged that can be conceived. A footpath has lately been made by the Duke of Atholl, which conducts the stranger in safety along the side of the chasm, where he has the opportunity of seeing, in a very short time, several very fine cascades; one over which a bridge is thrown forms a very picturesque object.

Proceeding up the same side of the river, along the footpath, we came in sight of another rustic bridge, and a noble cascade ... Crossing the bridge over this tremendous cataract, with trembling steps, we walked down the other bank of the river to a point from whence we enjoyed the view of this fine fall to great advantage ... a scene truly sublime. The nakedness of the hills indeed takes away from its picturesque beauty; The poet Burns, when he visited these falls, wrote a beautiful poetical petition from Bruar Water to the Duke of Atholl, praying him to ornament its bank with wood and shade; the noble proprietor has been pleased to grant the prayer of the petitioner, and has lately planted the banks of the river: the plantation is yet very young, but in a few years will have a very good effect.'

The 4th Duke of Atholl had two viewing houses built which, in addition to affording shelter to visitors, were strategically sited to give the best views of the Falls. Little survives today of these buildings, but an early 19th-century drawing shows a rustic shelter with conical thatched roof and pole supports. This building was sited between the Lower and Middle Falls. A stone archway to the south survives which conceals the middle falls from the visitor. The site of the second viewhouse lies on the east bank of the river between the Middle and Upper Falls. A bench marks the site today where views of the Upper Falls can still be obtained.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

A single-storey, rustic stone Lodge, c.1789, is sited at the south end of the Falls of Bruar, near the start of the walk to the Falls. The Railway Bridge, c.1862, is single-span and designed by Joseph Paxton. The South Bridge consists of a single semicircular arch with late 18th- or early 19th-century rustic masonry. All that remains of the Lower Viewhouse overlooking the Falls is a late 18th- or early 19th-century bastion approached by a rustic arch. The single-arched North Bridge crosses a gully at the head of the tall waterfall. All that remains of the Upper Viewhouse is a bastion cut out of the east bank of the Bruar.

Drives & Approaches

The path starts by Bruar Lodge and the Visitor Centre and goes under the railway bridge to the west side of the river.

Paths & Walks

The raison d'être of the landscape at the Falls of Bruar is the picturesque views of the Upper and Lower Falls. This means that the landscape is in fact quite restricted to the area around the River Bruar. The walks are maintained with a coarse gravel chip.

From Bruar Lodge the path under the railway bridge runs parallel with the river. It then bends sharply bringing the celebrated view of the Lower Falls and the natural rock arch into sight. After winding through woodland for a further short distance the path reaches the lower bridge and the rustic arch at the first or Lower Viewhouse, from which can be seen the Middle Pool, Cave, and Middle Falls. Historical descriptions suggest that the traditional route for visitors was then to cross the bridge by the Middle Pool and then to proceed up the east side of the Bruar to the Upper Viewhouse and the Upper or North Bridge and Upper Falls. Visitors returned through woodland along the west bank, stopping again at the lower viewing point.


The Falls of Bruar lie within a belt of mainly larch plantations. Some mature Sitka spruce can be seen overhanging the river valley. Other trees include Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), silver birch, rowan, and Scots pine. Rhododendron ponticum has established itself throughout the area and there is an understorey of ferns, blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtalis), bell heather (Erica cinerea), ling (Calluna vulgaris) and cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).



Maps, Plans and Archives

1st edition OS 1:10560 (6”), 1867

Drawing of Lower Hut on the Bruar, sketched by Lady Emily Percy, 1810, from the collection of the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle


Printed Sources

Burns, Robert – Poetical Works, ed William Wallace, ND

Dingwall, Christopher – The Falls of Bruar, A Garden in the Wild, 1987

Garnett, Dr Thomas – Observations on a Tour through the Highlands and Part of the Western Islands (1798), 1800

Hunter, Thomas – Woods, Forests and Estates of Perthshire, 1883

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.

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Printed: 27/11/2020 02:09