Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

Stonefield Castle HotelGDL00350

Status: Designated


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


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Argyll And Bute
South Knapdale
NR 86494 71494
186494, 671494

Stonefield Castle Hotel is an important example of a 'west coast' woodland estate landscape in Scotland, recognised for its outstanding horticultural value with a diverse and extensive collection of plant species and cultivars including many rare varieties and early introductions.

Type of Site

An estate landscape with horticulturalist's woodland garden established in the mid-19th century around a mansion house.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1840s-60s; 1940s-1960s.

Importance of Site

A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.

Work of Art


The informal, naturalistic mid-19th century designed landscape at Stonefield was laid out within the framework of the house and estate buildings by the renowned architect William Henry Playfair in 1836-37. The arrangement and integration of features into a topographically varied physical environment add to the interest. Playfair described the place as 'one of the prettiest in Scotland' in correspondence following his visit to the finished house in 1843 (NLS, MS9704).


The introduction of species from Hookers' plant expeditions to the Himalaya in 1849, and the longevity of many exotic plants and trees due to careful siting, indicates that Stonefield is a successful example of mid-19th century woodland garden development on the west coast of Scotland. By 1911, Sir Herbert Maxwell had written that 'the luxurient growth of tender exotics' at Stonefield 'exceeded all expectation' (Scottish Gardens, p.61).



The west coast of Scotland was recognised as a place where tender specimen trees and shrubs could flourish due to the high rainfall and the warm temperate climate provided by the North Atlantic Drift and Gulf Stream. These gardens were planted with rhododendrons and other wild origin plant material, often derived from the China-Himalayan region.


Stonefield Castle Hotel fits within this wider tradition of woodland gardens in Scotland created from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. It is an authentic example of a 'west coast' woodland garden in Scotland with a diverse collection of species, cultivars and historic garden features. The general layout of the policies at Stonefield has not altered significantly from the layout as shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1865. The long period of continuous ownership by the Campbell family during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and their keen interest in horticulture, adds to the historic value. A plant guide relating to the key plant collections as recorded by Head Gardener, David G Hannah, is held at Stonefield Castle Hotel and adds further value under this heading.


Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural


Stonefield Castle Hotel garden has an outstanding collection of trees, shrubs and other plants of mixed age, scale and diversity including many rare or early specimens. The plants typify those suited to west coast of Scotland conditions in terms of climate, maritime influence including the Gulf Stream, geology and soils.


The collection includes woodland and woodland edge species including deciduous trees, shrubs, conifers, ferns and perennials with specialisms including rhododendrons, camellias and other plants from the Himalayas, China, Japan and New Zealand. Some of these were first introduced from seed around 1850.


The Stonefield Castle gardens contain a remarkable collection of champion trees including nine Britain & Ireland champion trees, seven Country champions and twenty nine County champions (Tree Register of the British Isles, 2012).




The designed landscape provides the setting for Stonefield Castle Hotel. A range of estate ancillary buildings including a viaduct bridge, stable and coach house, tower folly, mausoleum and lodge houses provide the architectural framework for the landscape. Collectively, they give high architectural value to this estate landscape.



The 1.5 km long expanse of mixed broadleaf woodland canopy that skirts the loch side, punctuated by spikey coniferous trees on higher ground to the rear, is visible from various long range and short range vantage points. From the A83 trunk road the diverse collection of trees provides variety and creates a distinct contrast in the surrounding scenery, from the higher moorland to the west and from across the wide expanse of Loch Fyne to the east, giving this site a high scenic value.

Nature Conservation


Although there are no national nature conservation designations at Stonefield, the variety of flora and fauna habitats provide some nature conservation value. The woodland areas and the seashore margins at Stonefield provide refuge for birds and other wildlife.



There are no scheduled monuments or archaeological sites within the designation boundary. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map indicates a possible circular motte or hill fort named 'An Dunan' to the north of the present mausoleum. The inlet to the south of the Barmore Island has the remains of a semicircular stone fish-trap of unassigned age. As with all designed landscapes, there is the potential for future survey or investigation to reveal further data on the landscape through time.

Location and Setting

The Stonefield Castle estate is located on the lower slopes of Knapdale Forest on the west coast of Scotland. It extends around 1.5 km, north to south, along the shores of Loch Fyne, covering an area of 148 hectares (366 acres). The town of Tarbert is 3km to the south and Ardrishaig is 16km to the north. The A83 runs along the western boundary of the site.

Stonefield Castle, a mansion house of 1873 now operating as a hotel, sits amidst trees on an area of slightly rising ground to the north of the Barmore valley, overlooking the loch. The topography within the site is varied, incorporating natural features such as the isthmus of Barmore Island, the valley of Barmore Burn and Barr Hill to the south. The slopes of the valley provide a microclimate for the plant collection and protection from the prevailing south westerly winds. The site's naturally acidic soil and substrate provide the necessary growing conditions for the diverse range of unusual plants and flowers at Stonefield.

There are paths winding down through the woodland garden to the lochside, with views to the open prospect of the loch and hills of Bute beyond to the east and the south. The views north have a more open aspect towards Lochgilphead and Otter Ferry. The wider landscape of South Knapdale is characterised by open moorland, woodland and forestry plantation.

Site History

Stonefield Castle/House was built in 1836-37 on the site of an earlier building (probably known as Barmore, and shown on John Thomson's Argyll map of 1824). The new house was built for John Campbell (1788-1857) to designs by William Henry Playfair, one of the leading architects of 19th century Scotland. Campbell was the great-great grandson of Sheriff of Argyll, Archibald Campbell who had bought the estate from the McAlisters of Barmore in 1746. John Campbell chose the name 'Stonefield', it being the English translation of 'Achnacloich', an estate in the ownership of the Campbell family on the shores of Loch Etive.


By 1840, Playfair had also designed a stable block to the south of the house, a substantial viaduct across the ravine of the Barmore Valley, and a folly tower on the slopes beneath. Playfair is known to have been involved in garden designs at some of his other country house commissions. It is possible that he oversaw the laying out of the gardens at Stonefield, which are naturalistic and informal in character, but there are no plan drawings to confirm this.


Interested in botany, John Campbell raised the first introductions of various varieties of Himalayan Rhododendron at Stonefield. These were sent as seed from the 1849-50 plant hunting expedition to the Himalaya undertaken by Dr Archibald Campbell (1805-1874) and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), the important British botanist and plant hunter. Archibald Campbell was John Campbell's cousin. Hooker named Magnolia Campbellii after Dr Campbell. Referred to as the 'aristocrat of the Magnolia species', a large example grows at Stonefield. More than 20 rhododendrons from seed sent from Hooker's 1849-50 expedition, and illustrated in his book "The Rhododendrons of Sikkim - Himalayas" were planted in the gardens at Stonefield. Many of those that survive are now immense examples that have naturalized themselves, either by seed or by layering, such as the large leaved Rhododendrons of the 'Grande' series.


The estate was inherited by Campbell's grandson, Colin G Campbell and his son Colin C Campbell, both of whom also held a keen interest in gardening. Their gardens at Achnacloich house near Connell, Argyll were under development around the same time and are also included on the inventory. New and rare species were continually added, and by 1940 the garden at Stonefield was flourishing with a staff of five gardeners.

The house was sold by the Campbells in 1948 and has been in use as a hotel since the early 1950s. For many years, the gardens at Stonefield continued to be maintained by head-gardener, David G. Hannah, a recognized expert on Rhododendrons. 60 acres of woodland gardens around the house remains in the ownership of the hotel. The southern policies, including Barr Hill and Barmore Island, were sold to the Forestry Commission and planted up as commercial forestry around 1960. Since Hannah's retirement in the 1970s the gardens beyond those surrounding the hotel have been less actively maintained. A significant number of well-established early specimen trees and plant introductions continue to survive in the present landscape (2018).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Stonefield Castle is a rubble-built Scottish baronial mansion house of 1837 to designs by William Henry Playfair. It is an L-shaped, two storey building with crowsteps, crenellated tower and turrets with conical roofs and fine interiors. In the 1970s, a large bedroom wing and dining room extension were built on to the north and west sides. To the south of the house are the Stables and Coach House, also designed by Playfair in about 1839. The substantial rubble-built Viaduct over Barmore Burn was designed by Playfair and constructed in about 1838. The Tower, a picturesque folly ruin with a crenallated parapet on the slope of the Barmore valley, was probably built at the same time as the viaduct. The remains of a boathouse by the loch side to the east of Stonefield Castle may also be by Playfair. The South (or Tarbert) Lodge was completed in about 1843 and is also by Playfair. The equivalent North Lodge has been altered. In 1855, a gothic Mausoleum was built to the north of Stonefield for John Campbell. The Farm Steading to the west was built in the Scottish vernacular style in the early 19th century. The Gamekeeper's Cottage with adjoining kennels was built in the 1840s.

Drives & Approaches

Historic maps show that the long north and south drives into this landscape were in place by the later 19th century (Ordnance Survey 1865). The north drive was designed to skirt the shore of the loch to increase the sense of drama on the approach to Stonefield Castle. Although the estate is no longer accessible from the north or south drives, the north and south lodge houses remain extant at the entrance to these approach drives, marking the boundary of the estate landscape. In the present landscape, the approach drive to the hotel is from the west, passing the walled garden and stable and coach house. The drive has a diversion across the viaduct toward the Barmore Island isthmus.

Paths & Walks

The main network of paths through the rhododendron collection to the south of the hotel are currently maintained and kept clear of growth. A varied topography and high tree canopy provide opportunities for understorey plants to develop. Within the woodland garden, openings in the canopy prove glimpses of the surrounding hills, while there are more extensive views from the edges of the woodland.


The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey plan of 1865 shows a strip of grassland near the shore. This strip opened out into an oval of flat parkland set about with specimen conifer trees, and continued over the narrow isthmus to Barmore Island. In the 1920s, two clay tennis courts and a wooden summerhouse were built here (no longer extant, 2017). This area of former parkland/grassland remains discernable in the present landscape (2017).

The Gardens

Woodland Garden

The core woodland garden extends around the house and over the surrounding slopes, southward through the Barmore Valley to the walled garden. Evidence of John Campbell's mid-19th century mixed tree planting, including exotic hardwoods and conifers, continues northwards around the mausoleum and along the seashore towards the North Lodge. The wider woodland towards the periphery of the site includes well-established beech, sycamore and oak with some Scots pine and Douglas fir. A Monkey Puzzle tree was planted as an eye-catcher on the north side of Barmore Island prior to 1950. The only tree on the island at that time, it remains visible from the hotel amidst later mid-20th century conifer plantation.

Mature policy woodland provides shelter for the understorey plant collection of exotic flowering shrubs including many of the plants grown from the first seeds of their type introduced into Scotland. Important examples grown from seed sent by Hooker include those in the series of Rhododendron falconeri (Falconer rhododendron), Rhododendron eximium, Rhododendron niveum and Rhododendron arboreum album (White tree rhododendron). The plant guide to the Stonefield Gardens describes over 100 trees and shrubs including Philesia, Fuchsia, Cotoneaster, Pieris and around 60 Rhododendrons. Many of the Rhododendrons are planted in an arc around a lawn to the south of the castle. More tender shrubs such as Lomatia myricoides (River lomatia), Crinodendron hookerianum (Chilean lantern tree) and Pittosporum tenuifolium (New Zealand pittosporum) are protected by the canopy of some interesting trees including a large Nothofagus cunnighamii (Myrtle beech), Abies borisii-regis (Bulgarian fir) and an Abies lasiocarpa var Arizonica (Cork bark fir).

In 1981, arboreal specialist Alan Mitchell measured more than seventy conifers of thirty nine varieties at Stonefield. These included a Pinus montezumae var Hartegii (Long needled pine) which was over 22 metres tall at that time; a Sciadopitys verticillata (Umbrella pine) over 15 metres and a Wellingtonia (Giant redwood) over 42 metres high. He also measured 10 broadleaved trees including a Myrtus luma and a Magnolia campbellii over 15 metres tall.

The trees and shrubs at Stonefield were recorded for the Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI) in 2012. A remarkable number of champion trees were recorded including nine Britain & Ireland champions, seven Country champions and twenty nine County champions (forty five champions in total). These include species of Rhododendron, Cypress, Berberis, Magnolia, Eucalyptus and Yew. The oldest living Eucalyptus in Britain is probably the Eucalyptus urnigera (Urn Gum) at Stonefield, recorded as having been planted in 1881 (TROBI, 2015).

Walled Gardens

The large walled garden area was built on the south-facing slope between Stonefield Castle and the stable and coach house range. It is enclosed by a stone wall and divided into two terraces by a retaining wall. The terraces are currently unused (2017).



Maps, plans and archives

Roy W. (surveyed 1747-52) Military Survey of Scotland – Highlands.

Thomson J. (1824) Southern Part of Argyll Shire, John Thomson s Atlas of Scotland 1832: Edinburgh

Ordnance Survey (surveyed, 1865; published 1870) Argyll and Bute Sheet CXCII.5 (South Knapdale) 1st Edition, 25 inches to 1 mile. Ordnance Survey: Southampton

Ordnance Survey (revised, 1898; published 1899) Argyll 192.05 (includes: South Knapdale) 2nd Edition, 25 inches to 1 mile. Ordnance Survey: Southampton

National Library of Scotland, William Henry Playfair Collection, MS 9704 - 2nd Nov 1843

Printed sources

Hooker, J. D. (1849) The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya. London: Benham and Reeve.

Groome, F.H. 1882, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, Volume VI. London: William Mackenzie, p.400.

Maxwell, Sir H. (1911) Scottish Gardens - Being a Representative Selection of Different Types, Old and New. London: pp.61-64.

Walker, Fraser and Steele (1948) Particulars and conditions of sale of the sporting, residential and agricultural estate of Stonefield.

Hannah, D.G. (1960s) Stonefield Castle Hotel – Plant Guide. Copy held at Stonefield Castle Hotel.

Webster and Co. (1983) Stonefield Castle Hotel: Sale Particulars. Glasgow.

Armstrong, G.S. (1996) Stonefield Castle Hotel and Gardens. Privately published, copies held at Stonefield Castle Hotel and at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh Library.

Ritchie and Harman, [J N] G and M. (1996) Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland s Heritage series, ed. by Anna Ritchie. 2nd. Edinburgh, pp.44-45.

Devlin, F. (2016) Stonefield Castle Hotel – A Case for Regeneration. Copy held at Stonefield Castle Hotel.

Online sources

Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI) - [accessed 13/12/2017].

Monumental Trees - [accessed 13/12/2017].

Andrews, S. Tree of the Year: Magnolia Campbellii - [accessed 13/12/2017].

Ordnance Survey Name Books – Argyll - [accessed 13/12/2017].

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

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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Stonefield Castle Hotel, looking west, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.
Woodland garden and Barmore Island, looking east from roof of Stonefield Castle Hotel, during daytime with white sky.
Stonefield Castle Hotel, looking west, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.
Stonefield Castle Hotel, looking north, during daytime with white sky.
Stonefield Castle Hotel, looking west, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.
Stonefield Castle Hotel, looking west, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.

Printed: 18/04/2019 20:21