Location and Setting
Cortachy is situated at the foot of Glen Clova on the north side of the broad vale of Strathmore approximately 3.5 miles (6km) to the north of the town of Kirriemuir and some 7 miles (11km) to the north-west of the town of Forfar. The River South Esk is an integral part of the designed landscape to the north and east of the Castle. To the south, the Prosen Water flows in an almost west/east direction to join the River South Esk at the most easterly point of the policies. The village of Cortachy lies to the north of the Castle, beyond the B955. The deeply rolling natural landform of the area has been created by the effects of glaciation. The surrounding land is under use for agriculture and forestry. The B955 forms the western boundary and is joined to the north of the Castle by a minor road from Memus in the east from which point views are gained into the arboretum and wild garden. The policy wall is significant from all points on these surrounding roads, in particular where it sweeps into the site at the main entrances.
Cortachy is situated amid some 510 acres (207ha) of designed landscape which extends north, beyond Cortachy Bridge, along the banks of the River South Esk to Doulin Haugh, and south, beyond the B955, to Hillend Plantation. To the west, the policies extend to the B955 and east to the confluence of the River South Esk and the Prosen Water. The policies of Downiepark, the neighbouring house to the north of the River South Esk, are now included within the Cortachy policies. The Airlie Monument stands outwith the polices on Tulloch Hill to the north-west of Cortachy Castle and views to it are gained from within the policies and the local surrounding landscape.
Documentary map evidence of the extent of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1870 and the 2nd edition of c.1910. Comparison of these maps shows that the designed landscape was extended after 1750, probably at the beginning of the 19th century, and has remained relatively consistent in its extent ever since. A formal garden indicated adjacent to the Castle on a photograph of 1898 was removed when the Castle was reduced in size in 1948.
The designed landscape at Cortachy was laid out between 1820-81. Alterations were made to the house and gardens c.1950. Improvements have been made to the woodlands in recent years. There are no known landscape designers for Cortachy.
The Cortachy Estate was purchased by Thomas Ogilvy in 1625. James, 7th Lord Ogilvy, was created Earl of Airlie in 1639, and in 1640 the Earl of Argyll sacked his seat at Airlie Castle which was burnt out one year later. Thereafter, Cortachy became the family home. There was little activity on the estate in the 18th century as the family were exiled to France after the 1715 and 1745 uprisings, but General Roy's map of 1750 indicates the presence of a designed landscape, at this time lying between the River South Esk and the Prosen Water. Following their return, some building work recommenced c.1810- 20. It is uncertain if the structure of the present designed landscape was laid out then or by the 10th Earl who succeeded to the title in 1849. The 1st edition OS map shows it to be well established by 1870.
The 10th Earl was a noted improver of cattle which grazed in the extensive parkland of Cortachy. He commissioned David Bryce in 1872 to design extensive Victorian additions to the house. His wife, Henrietta Blanche, 2nd daughter of the 2nd Lord Stanley of Alderly, was a keen gardener and was responsible for the layout of the arboretum, wild garden and kitchen gardens which remain today. Her influence remains also at Airlie Castle where she retired after the death of the 10th Earl in 1881 until her own death 40 years later. Their son, the 11th Earl, was killed in action in South Africa in 1900 and the Airlie Memorial was erected on Tulloch Hill to commemorate him. The 12th Earl continued to improve the estates and was responsible for the removal of a major part of the Victorian additions from the house c.1950 and the restoration of the immediate surroundings to their present state. Since World War II inevitable reduction in labour has resulted in the removal of certain high maintenance areas of garden but the structure of the designed landscape is maintained by the present 13th Earl of Airlie.
Cortachy Castle is a large three-storey, turretted mansion house. It is listed category B and dates largely from the 19th century although the south wing dates from the 16th century. Additions were made in 1820 and 1874. Parts of the later phase were removed in 1948; the 1948-50 works were by Philip Tilden.
The stables, listed category B, date from the late 18th century. The dairy, listed B, dates from c.1872. The Grey Lodge is Tudor Gothic c.1820 and is listed B. Airlie Lodge, listed B, stands on the south drive and is dated 1889. The Red Lodge and gates, listed C(S), stand on the south drive and are dated 1859. The Parish Church, listed B, was designed by architect David Paterson c.1828 but incorporates other 17th century features. The Kirkyard walls, listed B, were also built c.1828. Cortachy Bridge, listed B, dates from 1759 although it was widened and the parapets were rebuilt in the mid-19th century. The Golden Gates, listed B, are Italian, dating from the 17th century, but were set between ashlar gatepiers in the late 19th century. The Airlie Memorial Tower, listed B, was built on Tulloch Hill in 1901.
The parks lie in the rolling landscape between the River South Esk and the Prosen Water but the most significant area lies to the north of the Castle beyond the River; it provides an important backdrop to views to the river from the Castle and also forms the setting for the only views to the Castle from the Memus road. Parkland trees of largely mixed deciduous species date from the 19th century. The park to the west of the Castle is separated from the surrounding woods and pleasure grounds by a ha-ha. The woodlands projecting into this park as indicated on the 1st edition OS map had degenerated by c.1900 and have now gone. A beech avenue extending through the south park to the ford across the Prosen Water is indicated on the 1st edition OS of 1870. The drive was improved with the addition of the bridge and Airlie Lodge in 1889.
The policy woodlands were largely established by 1870 although smaller areas, such as Hillend Plantation and around Airlie Lodge were added in the late 19th century. Species are predominantly beech with some copper beech, ash, oak and horse chestnut. North of the Castle, the woodland on the east bank of the River South Esk has been felled but some ornamental conifers remain and the area has recolonized with birch. The woodland walks along the banks of the River South Esk to the north of Cortachy Bridge have been improved. A large area on the west bank of the River South Esk has recently been planted with conifers but the majority of the woodlands are maintained for hardwoods.
The wild garden is situated to the west of the walled garden. It was established amid a maturing canopy of beech by Blanche, Countess of Airlie. The pond was created after 1870 from an existing natural burn which was canalised to the south of the pond. A new wooden bridge has been added to link the garden with an island in the centre of the pond. Ornamental trees were added by Blanche, Countess of Airlie, along with a variety of Rhododendron and Azaleas. Hostas, Primulas and various other water- loving plants have been established on the banks of the pond. The garden has been added to by her successors.
An azalea walk leads from the Castle to the walled garden, to a gate which is dated 1857. The walled garden is situated between the south drive and the wild garden on a south-east facing slope. The main part of the garden is square, divided into two sections by a double yew walk running north/south. The western half has been put down to grass. The eastern half remains well- stocked with fruit and vegetables. Along the eastern boundary is a grass path flanked by shrub and broad herbaceous borders which incorporate the distinctive topiary established by Blanche, Countess of Airlie. A broad gravel path, flanked by grass verges, topiary and rose beds, extends along the northern boundary. A grass path down the centre of the double yew walk, which was once lined with herbaceous borders, leads to steps which descend into a semi- circular grass area. Copper and ordinary beech have been planted around the perimeter and the area is enclosed on the south side by woodlands which flank the burn from the wild garden.
The Arboretum or American Garden is situated to the west of the Castle on the south bank of the River South Esk. It too was established by Blanche, Countess of Airlie, after 1848. The 1st edition OS map of 1870 shows a series of straight interesting paths across the area which have since gone, although the vista centred on the Castle remains. A layout plan of the Arboretum also dated 1870 is contained in the family archives but is missing at present. These straight paths were replaced by the time of the 2nd edition OS with a series of informal meandering paths which have now also been superceded by mown paths. The arboretum itself contains an excellent range of trees, particularly conifers, for this area of the country. They have been planted by various members of the family and visitors to the Castle and the plantings have been recorded. A label on each tree notes the date of planting and the name of the person who planted it.
The arboretum sweeps up to the Castle and around its south side, where trees dating from the 18th century or earlier stand, including a lime and Silver fir planted in 1745.