Location and Setting
The House of the Geanies is situated on the eastern coast of the peninsula which projects into the North Sea between the Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth. The town of Tain lies some 9 miles (14.5km) to the west. The peninsula is relatively flat; The Geanies stands at 282' (86m) on the second highest point on the peninsula; the highest point, Nigg Hill 666' (203m) lies 6 miles (9.5km) to the south-west. An area of raised ground known as Cadboll Mount lies to the south of the drive to the house. The coastal cliffs rise from the shore at The Geanies to a height of around 200' (61m). Soil conditions are light loam. Annual rainfall is relatively low.
The surrounding landscape is largely agricultural. The setting of the site enables views to be gained south to Forres, Nairn and Inverness on the Morayshire coast and north across the Dornoch Firth to the designed landscapes of Dunrobin and Skibo. The setting is important to the designed landscape and has been used to create coastal and clifftop walks and lookout points. The setting also restricts views inwards to the core of the designed landscape although the main avenue planting and woodlands are highly significant by virtue of their contrast to the surrounding landscape.
Geanies House lies on the coast, which forms the eastern boundary of the site. The designed landscape extends north to the Home Farm, south to the shelterbelt which encloses the park and west to Mains of Geanies. The main drive extends beyond the Mains, through fields of agricultural improvement to the B9165 which links the village of Portmahomack in the north to the A9(T). After 1826, the estate contracted considerably when many farms were sold off. Historical map evidence of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of c.1871 and the 2nd edition of c.1910. Reference to these documents indicates that the designed landscape has not effectively changed since its layout in the early 19th century. There are approximately 110 acres (45ha) in the designed landscape today.
The designed landscape was largely laid out in the early/mid 19th century; there are no known landscape designers involved in its layout.
The shrub garden is thought to have been established c.1900 and was largely developed between 1920-1970.
The site of the original Geanies Castle is in the field to the north of the house. The earliest known owner of The Geanies is Macleod of Assynt who built the present house in the early 18th century. His great-grandson added to the house c.1800 and built the summerhouse. The first statistical account records that considerable improvements had recently been made to the farmland. These additions and improvements to the estate seriously affected the financial stability of the Macleod family and resulted in the sale of the property in 1826 to Kenneth Murray. He is reputed to have been an eminent agricultural improver of the time. Whether the designed landscape was laid out by him or the previous owners is not clear; it was, however, well established by the time of the 1st edition map of c.1871. The dykes on either side of the oval lawn on the south front of the house which enclose the gardens were constructed c.1820 by local labour at a time of famine when potatoes were provided as payment.
Sir Kenneth Murray (1894-1981) developed the gardens and planted trees between 1920 and the mid 1970s. Although the Murray family resided in the mansion house, they did not farm; the farm being in the hands of a tenant. Mr Roderick Mackenzie, a local businessman, and his family purchased the estate in 1982 and refurbished the mansion house which is now the Mackenzie family home and business headquarters.
Geanies House, the Garden Walls & Gatepiers are collectively listed B. The house is dated 1742 and had various 18th & 19th century extensions, particularly c.1800 & 1830. A sundial, dated 1810, is incorporated on the roof of the house. The Garden Walls are dated 1781 and are curved at the corners. The Gate Piers at the entrance to the B9165, dating from the early 19th century, are square ashlar surmounted with stone balls finished with diminutive obelisk finials.
The hexagonal summerhouse, listed B and dated c.1800, is situated in the woodland on the edge of the cliff. A marriage stone, dated 1760, is situated above its entrance on the landward side of the cliff. The former laundry stands on the north side of the walled garden. An underground tunnel linking the house with the shore was once used for contraband. A gate marked with a cross stands at the entrance to the cliff path, and the reputed monks' punishment cells are at the edge of the cliff path.
The parkland lies to the south of the house enclosed by shelterbelts from the prevailing winds. The main drive emerges from the woodland and sweeps through the park in a curve up to the carriage circuit in front of the house which is surrounded by horse chestnut trees. A belt of trees between the drive and the cliff top bisects the park in almost equal proportions. The oldest park trees, dating from c.1780, lie in the area north of the drive which straddles the two 'compartments'. The youngest trees, planted some 30-40 years ago stand in the park immediately adjacent to the house which was once used as a 9- hole golf course. Species include sycamore, beech and copper beech. The area is now grazed by cattle. The park to the south is cropped.
The woodlands of The Geanies form the boundaries of the designed landscape. The belt of woodland which extends from the garden north of the house in a south-easterly direction along the cliff top contains the oldest woodland trees, pollarded beech, dating from c.1770. The woodland now includes other mixed deciduous and coniferous species and ash has been allowed to regenerate. Primroses carpet the woodland floor in season. Many of the trees in the south-west edge of this plantation were lost in the gales of 1953. Beech and sycamore were allowed to regenerate naturally and were subsequently thinned out. A footpath returns through this woodland to the main drive whilst the clifftop walk continues to the shelterbelt which enclosed the south park.
This shelterbelt, composed of beech, birch and conifer varieties, links to the woodland north of Cadboll Mount which is made up of lime, beech and Scots pine. There is a dense understorey of naturally regenerated tree and shrub species.
The woodland across the drive to the west of Geanies Mains was planted up with conifers in the 1970s; it was formerly a field. The main drive extends from the woodland to the B9165. A beech hedge lines the south side of the Avenue and tree species include beech, Acer, ash, and sweet chestnut ranging in age from 40-100 years. An understorey of Rhododendron ponticum has become established. Part of the avenue by Mains of Geanies was lost in the gales of 1953 and has since been replanted with sycamore.
The shrub garden was established on the site of the old orchard to the south-west of the house, largely within the last 60 years. It is best seen at the end of July when species such as Carpenteria califronica, Hoheria and Abelia are in flower. The season is however extended into autumn by the presence of Eucrpyhia, Parrotia and Enkianthus. There are several good, interesting trees and shrubs in the collection, some of which have yet to be identified. A fine herbaceous border extends along the wall which faces south-east into the garden.
The remains of a formal garden lie to the north-east of the house. The curved walls and layout of the garden is indicated on the 1st edition OS map of c.1871. The area adjacent to the house has been maintained as a formal lawn which is dominated by two mature yew trees. Box hedging encloses the border adjacent to the south-east facing wall, in which vegetables for the house are grown. South of the lawn, gooseberries are grown commercially on an area which was a vegetable garden. A footpath separates these two areas and runs to an area on the north-eastern boundary which has recently been cleared. A pond, the original form of which is indicated on the 1st edition OS map, has recently been reclaimed although not in its original formal character. An island in the centre, a new feature, has been planted with Japanese spp. Ducks have been re-introduced to the pond and this area is to be replanted as a water garden. A line of lime and sycamore trees between 40-100 years of age separates this area from the field of gooseberries.