Location and Setting
Tongue House is situated on the eastern shore of the Kyle of Tongue on the north coast of Sutherland 1 mile (2km) north of the village of Tongue. The designed landscape is bounded on the east by the A836 and to the west by high walls which separate the policies from the shore. It is set at the base of the steep western slope of Ben Tongue 984' (300m). To the south, Ben Loyal rises to a height of 2,509' (765m) and, to the south-west, Ben Hope 3,040' (927m).
The valley setting of the Kyle of Tongue provides a milder climate than other parts of the exposed Caithness coastline. The surrounding landscape is largely rough moorland grazing. The Boathouse and store stand at the head of the pier opposite the western entrance of the site. Coniferous woodlands lie beyond the parkland enclosure to the north and down the eastern side of the A836. Magnificent views north and west across Tongue Bay can be gained from high points in the garden. From the end of the south avenue, views can be gained beyond the village to Castle Bharraich, with Ben Loyal and Ben Hope in the distance. Otherwise the designed landscape is relatively introspective and sheltered. The garden walls which form the western boundary are particularly significant from the western shore of the Kyle of Tongue and the coast road on the eastern shore. The policies are of little significance from the A836 in the east due to the nature of the landform. The policies lie within some 18,500 acres (7,493ha) of the Kyle of Tongue designated as a National Scenic Area.
Tongue House stands within the walled enclosures of the immediate gardens. The designed landscape is enclosed by Tongue Wood on all sides, except to the west; stone walls form this boundary and extend along the shore road as far as the Signal House. Prior to c.1815, access to the site was mainly via the sea and entry to the house would have been gained by the north gate. Following the construction of roads in the area, other entry points were made. Castle Bharraich is an important feature in the view from the southern boundary. The designed landscape today includes some 157 acres (64ha).
The designed landscape of Tongue House was laid out after 1750; the exact date is uncertain. Documentary map evidence is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1880 and the 2nd edition OS map of 1908.
In the 17th century, the estate was the seat of the Clan Mackay. In 1628, Sir Donald Mackay of Farr became the 1st Lord Reay. The present house is dated 1678 with later additions in 1750 when tree planting, some of which remains today, was carried out. In 1829 the 7th Lord Reay (1775-1847) sold the estate to the Sutherland family who were responsible for subsequent improvements to the grounds. For many years, Tongue House was the residence of the factor for their northern estates. The 4th Duchess of Sutherland, Duchess Millicent, was a very keen gardener and was probably responsible for much of the planting in the walled garden and many of the trees in the policies. Her granddaughter, the present Countess, and her husband, Mr. Charles Janson, made Tongue House their permanent residence in 1975.
The architectural features of Tongue House and its policies are collectively listed A although only the house is individually listed A. The house dates from 1678 with additions in 1750 and the 19th century. It is thought to have been rebuilt after being destroyed by fire by troops of General Monck during the Civil War. The gatepiers and outer garden walls are listed individually category B. The construction date of the walls is unknown. The gatepiers are thought to be late 19th century.
The walled garden, listed individually as category B, is thought to be mid-18th century, although the walls are of a similar construction to the 1678 part of the house. The sundial dated 1714 which stands to the east side of the house is individually listed category B. There is another sundial opposite the west front of the house. The Boathouse/store and pier are listed category C. The Gardener's Cottage is 19th century and lies to the south of the walled garden.
Tongue Wood lies to the north, south and east of the house beyond the walled garden. It consists of a mix of deciduous and coniferous spp., many of which are young with others dating from c.1760-80. A considerable proportion of the wood was lost in the gales of 1893 and much of the replanted stock was again lost in those of 1953. The remains of this last windblow have yet to be cleared. Natural regeneration has occurred and Rhododendron ponticum has self-seeded. A lime avenue extends down the south drive, planted in the mid- 19th century, and interplanted c.1920 with sycamore and beech. East of this drive at the edge of the road, stand two gate-posts indicating the presence of a former entrance which had gone by c.1850. Some elm trees, again planted c.1830, remain on the west (main) drive. The woodland on either side of this area is very open. The Tongue Burn flows parallel to the drive en route to the sea. Some rowan has recently been planted by the drive.
The formal lawn on the west front of the house is terraced. A tennis court which once stood on the lower terrace was removed in 1939. A sundial stands on the top terrace. Ornamental cherry species have recently been planted in clumps at the north-west and south-west corners of the lawn.
There are two walled gardens, the smaller of which lies to the north of the house and was probably once an orchard. It is presently used as a drying green. The walled garden to the east of the house lies on a westerly slope and is divided into four main compartments by high Cotoneaster hedges. A central lawn extends from the east front of the house and the obelisk-shaped sundial stands within the centre of the lawn along the axis of the herbaceous border. This runs north/south between the hedged compartments and is very attractively planted, with lupins, delphiniums and Spiraea providing splashes of colour along its length.
In the south-east area of the garden is an orchard. Vegetables are grown in the south- west area. Between the two, on either side of a gate, are two yew trees. New greenhouses are situated in the north-west area. The garden rises steeply to the north- east area, which is terraced and a view of the whole garden can be obtained from the top terrace which also allows views to the north and to the islands in Tongue Bay.