Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
NH 61504 73881
261504, 873881

An important planned 19th century estate landscape, central to the character of the Averon valley. At the core of the landscape are early 20th century formal gardens, including an Edwardian garden designed by Edward White, and work by garden manufacturing firms J.M. Blashfield and James Pulham and Sons and the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts.

*Record updated in 2017 only to note recent research about the garden terraces. The Inventory site as a whole has not been reviewed.

Type of Site

19th century informal and formal pleasure grounds, estate landscape and early 20th century formal gardens.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 19th – early 20th century.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The Italianate Garden by Edward White, with its ornamental features, set within the informal parklands of Ardross Castle and the composition of the designed estate landscape along the Averon, give this site outstanding value as a work of art. The landscape, estate buildings and castle with its interiors, form an important ensemble.


Level of interest

The history of Ardross and its owners is well-recorded. It helps us understand the social and economic life within the Averon valley, highlighting contemporary fashion and taste. This gives the site outstanding historical value.


Level of interest

The fine collection of trees, the walled garden and the sylvicultural tradition give this site high horticultural value.


Level of interest

The castle, its ancillary buildings, estate buildings and formal gardens with its range of structures and ornaments, give the site outstanding architectural value.


Level of interest

There are several sites of archaeological interest which give the policies high archaeological interest.


Level of interest

The estate designed landscape makes a major contribution to the scenic quality of the Averon valley.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The variety of habitats formed by the woodlands, parks, rivers and pastures, give this site high value for nature conservation. The riparian woodlands and grasslands along the River Averon are of especially high quality.

Location and Setting

Ardross Castle lies 8km (5 miles) northwest of Alness, in the Averon valley. The B9176 leads west off the A836 Alness-Kincardine road, through Easter Ardross to the castle.

The Ardross Castle policies extend along the valley, creating a parkland landscape character from Inchlumpie Wood to Dalneich Bridge. The farmed and wooded landscape contrasts markedly with the moorland on the slopes of Cnoc Céislein, Cnoc Gille Mo Bhrianaig and Bendeallt. Cnoc Duaig, Cnoc nam Flann and Cnoc Tarsin are situated to the north of the approach road leading to Ardross Castle grounds. They contain views northwards and shelter the road, which leads midway along the hillside with long-distance views to the wooded Averon valley below and across to the Lealty parklands. From the Castle terrace a panoramic view extends west over the hills of Strath Mor and southwards, over the wooded Averon, to parkland on the valley slopes of Cnoc Crask, with Ben Wyvis beyond. The Novar wind farm, situated on Cnoc Gille Mo Bhrianaig and Bendeallt, lies within the westernmost section of this view. Views from the Lealty parklands are also important.

To the east of the castle a major vista extends from the east entrance façade of the castle and across the formal Edwardian gardens. These form the central design axes.

The estate landscape extends along the Averon valley. The outer designed landscape consists of open rough grazing, regular enclosure fields, hedgerows, small copses and tree belts highlighted at specific points with plantings of copper beech. For the purpose of the Inventory, the policies of the Ardross designed landscape have been defined as that extending over Lealty and the Pinetum, with the core garden area encompassing some 23ha (90 acres).

The designed landscape reached its greatest extent by the mid 19th century, with parkland extending on both banks of the Averon (1875, OS 6"). This comprised parkland to the north of the castle and to the south of the Averon, extending from the Iron Rock over Lealty House to Cnoc Curuidan and to Wester Lealty in the south. By 1900, areas of parkland to the east of Lealty House were in agricultural use, with the loss of some parkland trees. By 1909, the area of parkland immediately to the east of the castle was enclosed for the construction of the formal gardens.

Site History

The 1st Duke of Sutherland bought Ardross in the late 1700s and built a hunting lodge. In 1845, the 2nd Duke sold the estate to Alexander Matheson.

Sir Alexander Matheson (1805-86) born in Attadale, Ross-shire, the nephew of James Matheson (see Lews Castle) was a founder of Matheson & Co. which traded in tea and opium, and was a merchant bank with branches in India and China. Having amassed considerable capital from this successful business he returned to Scotland in 1839 and purchased Ardross, amounting to 60,000 acres, for £90,000. He embarked on developing the estate, with the intention of attracting agricultural tenants under the supervision of William MacKenzie, an engineer who acted as factor. Between 1845-54 2600 acres of land were 'reclaimed by means of trenching, draining, liming,' and '67 miles of dykes, and 11 miles of wire-fencing erected, 28 miles of roads made, and 3000 acres of ground enclosed and planted' (Gardeners Chronicle, 1875). Matheson improved estate workers' housing as well as reclaiming land, so that by 1875, the number of agricultural tenants on the estate had increased from 109 to over 500, with an arable acreage of 1200.

The architect Alexander Ross (1834-1925) was commissioned to re-design Ardross Castle in the Scots Baronial style. This incorporated the earlier mansion and added some 30 rooms, at a cost of around £7000. Ross was supervisor for roads and buildings of the Highland Railway, of which Matheson was the first Chairman. Matheson also engaged manufacturer John Marriot Blashfield to install ornamental balustrades on the east front garden terrace.

Matheson laid out pleasure grounds said to extend to 700 acres 'with the Alness River winding its way through the middle of them. The walks through the pleasure-grounds are upwards of 14 miles in length, their width varying from 5 to 6 feet. They have all been properly bottomed with stones, and finely covered over with gravel.' (Gardeners Chronicle, 1875). These walks along the Alness River and Tollie Burn, gave access on both banks for fishing and incorporated scenic views, pools and waterfalls. Flower gardens lay to the west of the castle, between the castle and the kitchen garden. These were arranged to either side of a broad walk with displays of ribbon bedding along the face of a 300 foot long embankment. Below the terraces to the east of the castle were shrubberies and broad lawns, set with an oval pond and fountain enclosed by iron railings (Gardeners Chronicle 1875). Ornamental tree planting started in the 1840s and continued through the latter part of the 19th century (Gardeners Chronicle 1875, Tree Register of the British Isles 1989). Elsewhere on the estate 2020ha (5,000 acres) of plantation were laid out. The grounds were open to the public. Following Sir Alexander's death, his son, Sir Kenneth Matheson, sold the estate in 1898.

The new owner, also a successful business man, was C. W. Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), a Captain in the Highland Light Infantry, with interests in the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company and Lea & Perrins (Worcester sauce). The family spent several months annually at Ardross, with house parties enjoying the grouse moors, fishing and deer forests. Dyson Perrins continued Matheson's scheme of estate improvements: introducing electricity, purchasing additional lands at Glencalvie and Diebidale and modernising the castle. The East Lodge was built by Ross and MacBeth (1898) and the pinetum extended.

A major addition was the extension of the formal garden, designed by Edward White (c 1873-1952) for the east front. A perspective of White's design drawn by C. E. Mallows in 1909 was exhibited at the Royal Academy. By 1903, White, a landscape gardener married to the daughter of Henry Ernest Milner (c 1845-1906), was in charge of the landscape practice 'Milner, Son & White'. Following the Milners' tradition, White worked with the company Pulham & Son, who supplied rockwork and artificial stone features for Ardross. It seems likely that Pulham used Blashfield's balustrade design on the top terrace as a model to manufacture identical balustrading for the lower terraces (Information from Dingwall 2016, The Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts designed the statuary and ironwork for the gardens.

The estate was broken up and sold in 1937, although Perrins later bought back Achandunie, the former factor's house. Mr and Mrs Austin Mardon purchased Ardross Castle, Lealty Farm and over 80 acres and lived there until 1983, when the estate was sold.

In 1983, new owners acquired the estate and began to restore the gardens. The formal garden, walled garden, shrubberies and lawns were brought back into good management. Additional specimen trees were planted and woodlands extended. A programme to restore and refurbish the estate buildings and Castle was started.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Ardross Castle, in Scottish Baronial style, incorporates an earlier house. It was designed by Alexander Ross for Alexander Matheson in 1880-81 and built of Tarradale Red sandstone. The gabled and turreted building has a five-storey tower at the east end, above the entrance.

The formal garden comprises terraces. The later 19th century upper terrace was built during Matheson's ownership with balustrades by J. M. Blashfield. The lower terraces were added as part of a formal garden designed by Edward White in around 1909 with matching balustrading installed by James Pulham & Sons (Dingwall 2016, They incorporate curved stone steps with intricately worked balustrades and statues pre-cast in Pulham cement. A castellated gazebo at the southeast angle of the upper terrace is made of sandstone similar to that of the castle.

The stableblock with internal courtyard, now restored, is contemporary with the castle. A full range of ancillary service buildings includes a laundry, ice house and, adjacent to the River Averon, a remote hydro-electric generator house, installed by Perrins.

The walled garden and associated buildings have been restored. The existing glasshouse (MacKenzie & Moncur Ltd.) replaced an earlier structure.

The east entrance gate consists of central carriage gates with a matching pair of pedestrian gates. The octagonal gatepiers support a pair of heraldic beasts, the pomegranate and hounds, of the Perrins family crest. Beyond Easter Ardross is the East Lodge ('The Pillars'), designed by Ross & MacBeth in 1898, with two adjoining pairs of octagonal gate piers of tooled ashlar and a screen wall. The Mains of Ardross, to the north of the castle, is a notable agricultural complex in the estate style. Lealty House, situated within the south parklands acts as an eyecatcher, as seen from the gardens.

Other architectural features within the original policies include suspension bridges over the river (only one survives) and the Matheson family graveyard, southeast of the castle, near the confluence of the Tollie Burn and River Averon.

Drives & Approaches

The public road leading from Easter Ardross to Strath Rusdale forms the main approach to Ardross Castle. 'The Pillars', on the A836, 3.5km (2 miles) to the east of the Castle, marks this long, straight, approach road, lined with trees and giving spectacular views across the Averon valley. Crossing a bridge over the Tollie Burn, the entrance drive proper leads through the east entrance gate, to the castle. The entrance drive, initially straight, curves gently through informal parkland and woodland before reaching a forecourt on the Castle's east façade. North of this, access roads extend to the stableblock, the walled kitchen garden and to the public road at Mains of Ardross.

To the west of Mains of Ardross, the west drive leads off the public road and descends the valley, to cross the river at Lealty Bridge, before ascending through parkland to Lealty House.


The parklands extend along both banks of the River Averon, and are separated visually from each other by the thickly wooded banks of the Averon. Although many of the 19th century roundels and scatters of individual parkland trees, which ornamented the parkland were lost following the Second World War, the parkland still retains its essential character.

To the south of the castle there is a turf maze, built at the bottom of the south facing slope above the river Averon. This is classical unicursal maze 30m in diameter constructed in 1999 to celebrate the Millennium.


The woodlands, situated along the River Averon and the Tollie Burn, are mixed woods containing stands of conifers or ornamental broadleaves, some of which were planted experimentally. They include significant areas of semi-natural woodland, some of which pre-date the designed landscape.

Woodland Garden

Ornamental trees are concentrated in the vicinity of the Castle, the densest plantings being between the Castle and the Walled Garden. There were two main phases of planting in c 1850 and c 1900. Notable specimens include massive Douglas fir, silver fir, Wellingtonia, sitka spruce and grey poplar. The variety of species at Ardross is significant: ten species of fir (Abies), five species of spruce (Picea), seven varieties of false cypress (Chamaecyparis), monkey puzzle, Thujopsis, hemlocks, western red cedar, lime, maples and several other genera are represented (Schlich, W. and Pearson, R.S., 1907; TROBI, 1989). The wooded gardens extend to 32.5ha (80 acres), (Sales Particulars, 1993). Set within Lealty Park on the south bank of the Averon, is a pinetum (11.5ha/28 acres), interspersed with areas of sheltered rough grazing. Planted extensively in 1900 and well documented, it is a valuable conifer collection (TROBI, 1989; Sales Particulars, 1993).

The Gardens

An Italianate formal garden is located to the east of the castle. It was designed by Edward White in around 1909 using a pre-existing late 19th century top terrace. From the forecourt a series of four terraces descends to an open compartment, divided longitudinally by a central footpath, which forms the axis of the gardens. A curved double staircase leads from the forecourt to a stone-flagged terrace-landing decorated with a niche and well head, set into the retaining wall of the forecourt. The second, broad terrace, reached by a stone flight of steps ornamented with urns, is symmetrically set with two sunk, square beds decorated with marble wellheads and benches. A central stairway, flanked by a pair of sculptured stags mounted on stone encasements, leads down to the central compartment. This lower, rectangular area is set to lawn and lined by cypress trees, within a cypress hedge. Rectangular formal beds flank the central path. An earlier planting scheme was a box parterre infilled with red sandstone chippings and punctuated at the corners with Irish yew (Plan, undated, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland). At the east end, the path leads through a low wall to a square compartment set with a circular ornamental pool. A sculptural composition forms the centrepiece, made in Pulham stone, and depicting 'The Boar Hunt'. The Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts designed this. Life-size marble statues were originally set around the pool (NMRS).

Three wrought ironwork gates (Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts) lead out from the east end of the garden to a series of informal walks and glades enclosed by shrubberies and ornamental planting. The central gate leads up a flight of steps and through a Water Garden, laid out with natural rocks and Pulham stone along a natural watercourse. This leads to an informal pool and rocky cascade. An elaborate masonry bridge crosses the source pond.

South of the Boar Hunt pool, a smaller ornamental gate leads out to an azalea walk. The third gate leads north to a series of walks and glades set amidst groups of specimen trees. The glades and lawns are ornamented variously with a formal quatrefoil basin and fountain, a rustic timber summerhouse, and an oval croquet lawn. The latter, enclosed by a raised stone retaining wall and kerb was originally an open-air ice rink/curling pond. This was drained and infilled in around 1910 (NMRS).

Around the castle are a series of lawns - West Lawn, The Dell and the Stable Wood Lawn. All are set with specimen trees.

Walled Gardens

The walled garden, west of the castle and square in plan, sits on the top of a south-facing plateau. The south wall acts as a retaining wall on the slope (3.25m high), separating the garden from a broad walk beneath. Inside the walled garden a walk along this south wall gives views out over to the wooded slopes of the Averon. It has been reinstated following its 19th century layout. It is an ornamental garden with areas for fruit and vegetable production and is quartered with a central path flanked by herbaceous/shrub borders. The three glasshouses are operational and contain a collection of tender wall shrubs, espaliered fig and peach plants.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey, 1747-1755

1875 survey, 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1880

1874 survey, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25"), publication date n/a

1904 survey, 2nd edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1907

1909 C.E. Mallows, 'The New Formal Garden, Ardross Castle for C. W. Dyson Perrins. Designed by Edward White,': NMRS.

Ardross Estate Archive photographs and plans

Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI), Trees at Ardross Castle Survey, 1989


Printed Sources

Historic Scotland on Behalf of Scottish Ministers, The List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest

Ash, M. This Noble Harbour. A History of the Cromarty Firth (1995), pp.128-9, 218

Ardross Castle, Alness, Ross-shire, Sales Particulars (1993)

Festing, S. 'James Pulham 3. Recent Discoveries and Restoration of Pulham Sites', Garden History, vol.25, no.2 (1997), pp.230-7

Gardeners Chronicle, vol.1, Ardross Castle, (1875), pp.272-3

Gifford, J. The Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands (1992), pp.383-4

Glendinning, M., McInnes, R., and MacKechnie, A. A History of Scottish Architecture (1996)

Groome, F. Ordnance Gazetteer (1882)

Inverness Advertiser, November 1880

Inverness Courier, May 12th; August 18th 1899

Mitchell, J. Reminiscences of My Life in the Highlands (1883)

New Statistical Account, Statistical Account of the Parish of Rosskeen, vol.14, (1838), pp.266, 274

Pelik, R.A. C.W. Dyson Perrins 1864-1958 (1983)

Schlich, W. and Pearson, R.S., Working Plan for the Ardross Woods (1907)

Watt, Q. The Bromsgrove Guild. An Illustrated History (1999)

Online sources

The Pulham Legacy: Christmas 2016 newsletter: Ardross Castle, [accessed 08/02/2017]


Information courtesy of Christopher Dingwall 2016

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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Printed: 22/04/2024 01:55