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 rugged landscape of The Hermitage was considered to be of outstanding value as a Work of Art according to 18th century descriptions and continues to be of such value today.
The Hermitage has outstanding Historical value as it was designed as part of the Dunkeld Estate, a particularly fine example of an 18th century landscape.
Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural
The Hermitage has high Horticultural/ Arboricultural value for its fine stands of Douglas fir and woodlands of mixed species and ages, exhibiting considerable natural regeneration.
The landscape provides the setting for category A & B listed structures and therefore has outstanding Architectural value.
The Hermitage lies in a secluded valley setting; however, the woodlands provide a little scenic contribution to the surrounding landscape, which is within a National Scenic Area.
The woodlands of The Hermitage are of high Nature Conservation value.
- Not Assessed
Location and Setting
The Hermitage is situated on the west bank of the River Braan approximately 0.5 miles (lkm) south-west of its confluence with the River Tay, to the south of the city of Dunkeld. It was designed as part of the designed landscape of Dunkeld House but is considered here as a separate report, since it is now outwith the Dunkeld Estate. The A9(T) separates The Hermitage from Dunkeld today. The afforested slopes of Craigvinean rise to a height of 1,535' (468m) to the north of the site, and to the south, across Strathbraan, Birnam Wood covers the lower slopes of the Obney Hills.
The natural landscape along the riverside is dramatic; the River Braan flows in torrents over waterfalls and cascades, through a deep gorge. The Hermitage was built in this setting to exploit the natural picturesque landscape as part of an 18th century 'sublime' experience. The afforested setting of Strathbraan is such that views can only be gained from the river banks but the sound of water pounding over the Falls of Braan can be heard from the walks which run through the woodland to the north of the river. 'The Hermitage' lies within the Dunkeld National Scenic Area.
The 18th century landscape of The Hermitage was designed as part of the designed landscape of Dunkeld to extend from the River Tay along the River Braan to Rumbling Bridge, a distance of approximately 1 mile (1.5km). It included the woodland known as Hermitage Wood which extended between the western bank of the River Braan and a minor road to Craigvinean Cottage which ran off the main Perth/Aberfeldy road. The woodland given to the National Trust for Scotland extends over 33 acres (13.3ha) along the banks of the River Braan from the present A9(T), in which several miles of woodland walks are incorporated. Ossian's Hall, Hermitage Bridge and Ossian's Cave are significant designed features within the woodland. The designed landscape extends over 71 acres (29ha) today.
The lands of Dunkeld originally belonged to the church but were acquired by the Atholl Estate in the 17th century. The Dunkeld Estate was subsequently enlarged by the acquisition of land from surrounding crofters by successive members of the Atholl family. Dunkeld House was first built in the late 17th century. In 1703 the son of the 2nd Earl of Atholl was created Duke of Atholl. The 2nd Duke, James, who succeeded in 1724, laid out the original formal landscape at Dunkeld on the north bank of the River Tay. His nephew and heir, John, took a keen interest in the policies and built The Hermitage for the 2nd Duke in 1758 as an addition to the Dunkeld policies. Its design attracted a considerable variety of conflicting comments from notable members of society who came to look at it. A description of The Hermitage of 1762 by Bishop Robert Forbes told how entry was made through a small garden 'with two basins of water and small rocks on it with the additional beauty of fruit trees and flower-shrubs'. A grotto was situated beneath The Hermitage from where views to the Falls of Braan could be gained. Coloured glass was added to the windows of The Hermitage between 1762 and 1783 but was removed within that short time, possibly as a result of strong criticism from people such as W.S. Gilpin who visited in 1776, who thought them 'below the dignity of scenes like this.'
In 1783 the 3rd Duke's son redecorated The Hermitage and renamed it Ossian's Hall. The redecoration was intended to evoke features of 'shock' and 'amazement' in the viewers' minds; the room from where views of the waterfall were taken was lined with mirrors which made the spectator imagine that the water was appearing from all angles. William Wordsworth composed a poem which described the 'World of Wonder' in this room. Dorothy Wordsworth was more informative as to the landscape which lay around Ossian's Hall; in a description of the garden written in 1803 she noted that 'the walks are quaintly intersected, here and there, by a baby garden of fine flowers among rocks and stones'. These small-scale gardens have since gone.
By the late 18th century, the landscape along the banks of the River Braan was being frequently visited as part of guided tours from Dunkeld; the rugged dramas of the waterfalls and cascades provided a sharp contrast to the parkland landscape which had been laid out around Dunkeld by the 4th Duke. He was ultimately responsible for such extensive planting on the estate that on his succession to the title of 4th Duke in 1805, he became known as the 'Planter Duke'. It was he who planted up much of Craigvinean Hill to the extent shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1861.
In 1869 vandals blew up part of Ossian's Hall and the area was left to decay. In 1943 the 8th Duchess of Atholl donated it and 33 acres (13.3ha) of, by then, coniferous woodland along the banks of the River Braan to the National Trust for Scotland in accordance with the wishes of the late Duke. The NTS has since restored the building for the use and enjoyment of the public.
Ossian's Hall, a single-storey gazebo listed category B, is situated on a precipice above the River Braan. Built in 1758 at a cost of £38, it was extensively remodelled in 1783. The architect of this remodelling is thought to be George Steuart. The elaborate detail of the interior, described in many 18th century accounts, was lost by two phases of vandalism in 1821 and 1869. The fabric of the building was restored by the NTS in 1952 and again in 1986. Ossian's Cave, listed category B, is a carefully constructed folly, formed partly of rock and partly of dry rubble. It is shaped like a hermit's cave and has a round-headed doorway and windows. It lies upstream from Ossian's Hall on the north bank of the River Braan. Hermitage Bridge, listed category A, is a single semi-circular arch bridge which spans the River Braan beneath Ossian's Hall; built c.1785, the architect is thought to be George Steuart.
The woodland, planted in the 18th century with exotic species, is now largely mixed conifers of Scots pine, Douglas fir and Norway spruce established on the shallow, rocky soil of the banks of the River Braan. One of the four trees in Britain over 200' in height (1986) is a Douglas fir growing on the right bank of the Braan on Forestry Commission land. It can best be seen from The Hermitage side of the river. A few of the beech trees planted in the early 19th century remain as well as yew, Monkey puzzle and Silver fir. Walks are marked through the woodland along the routes of the original paths shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps.