Location and Setting
Loudoun Castle lies above the valley of the River Irvine at Galston some 5 miles (8km) east of Kilmarnock. The Castle is situated on the north side of the valley above the gentle slope down to the river. The designed landscape makes use of the wide valley setting with its long gentle slopes to north and south. Avenues and belvedere woods have been planted to form features in the landscape. Fine views can be obtained from the Castle across the parks and also the river valley. The Castle and woodlands are significant from the A71 which runs along the valley of the River Irvine.
General Roy's map of c.1750 shows the designed landscape of Loudoun extending north to a woodland Belvedere, south to Cessnock Tower, west to Galtscroft plantation and east to the Hag Burn. A strong feature of the design was the broad Avenue centering on Loudoun Castle which ran roughly north-east to south- west from it and was joined at various angles by other smaller avenues. The west-east avenue axis terminated at the site of the original castle to the east of the policies. The 1st edition OS map of 1856 shows the addition of an unusually large kitchen garden divided into four main sections, each then further subdivided into four compartments.
By the 2nd edition OS map of 1895, the strong features of the designed landscape south of the River Irvine, around Cessnock Castle, had largely gone; only the Belvedere and Sheerbull woodland rondels remained, together with a length of avenue which extended south from the latter. Today, the extent of the designed landscape remains relatively similar to that of the mid-18th century but the remaining designed features south of the river have further deteriorated. The west drive to the village of Loudoun has been cut off by the main A71 but the west belvedere wood remains. The many shelterbelts and woodland strips are also important to the local scenery although they are outwith the central design. There are 1,033 acres (418ha) of designed landscape today.
The Campbells of Loudoun can trace their history back to the 12th century when Donald Campbell married Susanna Crauford of Loudoun in the reign of Robert I (1306-1329). The original castle at Loudoun stood on a mound above the Bowhill Burn at the east of the present policies. It was destroyed in the late 15th century in a raid by the Kennedy clan. A new castle was begun by the 1st Earl of Loudoun on the present site. He became High Chancellor of Scotland in 1641 and he died in 1652. The 4th Earl, John, who succeeded in 1731 was a keen agricultural improver and began extensive improvements to the land, raising crops such as turnip, cabbage and carrots as early as 1756. He also planted more than a million trees, chiefly elm, oak and ash, and is thought to be responsible for the designed landscape shown on General Roy's map of 1750.
In 1765, he was a founder member of the Society for the Importation of Foreign Seeds and is said to have imported the first Ayrshire Rose from America. The Ayrshire Rose was the first rose raised in Scotland and was then known as the Orangefield Rose. The next major improvements were undertaken by the 1st Marquess of Hastings in the 1800s. He had married Flora Mure Campbell, Countess of Loudoun in her own right. He was an ex-Governor of India and having spent too much on the improvements, he sought office again and became Governor of Malta, where he later died. The family seldom lived at Loudoun during this period. The title died with the 3rd Marquess, but the estate passed to his sister, Edith-Maud, the Countess of Loudoun, in 1868. She had married the 1st Lord Donnington and died in 1874. Her son Charles inherited both titles and in the 1880s held some 18,600 acres in Ayrshire. In 1941, the Castle was gutted by fire on the eve of being leased to the war office as a military headquarters. Mrs Williams and Mrs Kerr became trustees of the estate on behalf of their mother, Lady Jean Campbell
The Castle is the ruin of the extensive building designed by Archibald Elliot for the Countess of Loudoun in 1804. It was a large square, castellated mansion with some 90 apartments and was illustrated in 1806 by P. Nasmyth. In 1811 extensions were carried out including the north facade and the portico. The east entrance had been the main access over the impressive bridge and 'moat' but, at this time, the west drive became the main entrance. The Castle is listed B. The cottage to the west of the Castle is a 19th century rebuilding of an earlier house and is listed B. There is an interesting ornamental carriage-lamp at the west entrance to the Castle.
The policies are reputed to have been laid out from plans designed by the Earl of Mar before 1750. The 4th Earl, John, planted over a million trees in the policies, some imported from America and the Continent. He is recorded as having one of the most extensive collections of willows in Scotland. Engravings of the early 1800s show fine mature parkland trees. The structure of the avenue and belvedere planting has remained similar since the 18th century but the woodlands have been interplanted over the years with chestnut, lime, sycamore, ash and elm species, some 80 years old, some 40 years old. Some old oak and limes remain. The south park still contains parkland trees, although a large area is now a golf-course. The site of the Old Castle is at the east of the policies.
The woodlands form a key part of the designed landscape of Loudoun illustrated on General Roy's plan of c.1750. Of these, the largest was Big Wood which extended from the Castle, east to the Hag Burn and incorporated long, straight rides through it. In the latter half of the 19th century, a large area of this woodland, to the south of the walled garden, was felled although some trees remained in the resulting parkland. Today, there are both coniferous and deciduous woodlands within the policies. Some of the commercial coniferous plantings have retained a deciduous edge; the young plantation to the south of the Castle has taken some of the parkland and will gradually obscure the view from the Castle and also the views of the Castle. Some old oaks remain in the west belvedere, and there are some old beech near the site of the Old Castle. The woodland walks are overgrown. A large and reputedly very old yew stands to the south of the Castle.
The walled garden is large, about four acres, and was once divided into 16 compartments; the offices and stables were adjacent to the kitchen garden. The garden is now put to grass and has been used for raising red deer.