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Airlie Castle


The designed landscape at Airlie Castle consists of late-19th-century formal gardens, a natural gorge with deciduous woodland of varying ages and a wild garden planted with ornamental shrubs. The formal garden lies partly within a late-18th-century walled garden and contains topiary hedges and a sloping parterre of box.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

A garden redolent of the late Victorian and Edwardian period with fine formal gardens, wild garden and woodland walks orchestrated around the natural gorges of the River Isla and Melgam Water.

Location and Setting

Airlie Castle is situated in Glen Isla, approximately 3.5 miles (6km) north- east of the town of Alyth. The Castle stands on the south-east side of the confluence of the River Isla and the Melgam Water both of which occupy deep gorges in the landscape. The Castle was built in its present position for defensive purposes with access on the east side restricted by a moat. The surrounding landscape is rolling agricultural land. From the Castle, fine views are gained all around, in particular to the Grampians in the north and the flatter landscape of the vale of Strathmore to the south. Views out from many areas in the woods and gardens are restricted. The woodlands along the gorges of the River Isla and Melgam Waters are the most significant scenic features. The designed landscape of Airlie is of moderate significance in the landscape, despite its relatively secluded setting, when viewed from the minor road which lies to the east of the policies between Ruthven in the south and Bridgend of Lintrathen to the north. The roadside boundary to the south of the lodge is punctuated by a beech hedge with evenly spaced beech hedgerow trees, a striking local landscape feature.

Airlie Castle is situated on a promontory to the south-east of the confluence of the Melgam Water and the River Isla. The designed landscape extends east to the edge of the agricultural land and south to the lodge whilst the policy woodlands extend along either side of the gorge of the River Isla to Bridge of Craigisla in the north and Bridge of Dillavaird in the south. To the east, they extend along the banks of the Melgam Water to Bridge of Lundies.

Documentary map evidence of the designed landscape is confined to General Roy's map of 1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1870, and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900. Comparison of these with the present situation shows that the designed landscape was laid out after 1750 and the extent of the designed landscape has not changed since 1870. Views out to the surrounding landscape from the Castle promontory were probably significant in the design although in recent years they have become obscured by the woodland along the gorges. Views of the rivers are significant features of the woodland walks although they too have been reduced by overgrowth. The designed landscape includes some 233 acres (94ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Airlie Castle, listed category B, was originally built in 1432. After being sacked in 1640, a plain classical mansion house was attached to the gatetower and curtain wall in 1790. The stables, listed category B, were built to the designs of David A. Whyte in 1813.

There are two Italian well-heads; one is thought to be 14th century in origin, and there is a statue of John the Baptist near the Castle. A sundial dated 1750 stands in the wild garden and a Jacobean sundial, mounted on a later base, stands in the centre of the walled garden. The 1906 gate of the walled garden was reputedly designed by Sir Robert Lorimer. The Lodge stands at the entrance of the south (main) drive. The gates at the entrance lodge were designed for the 12th Earl and Countess of Airlie to commemorate their Golden Wedding.

Bridge of Dillavaird, listed category B, spans the River Isla at the south end of the policies. A stone dated 1850 is incorporated into its side. The Bridge of Lundies, listed category C, spans the Melgam Water and is thought to be 18th century.


The woodlands extend along either side of the gorges of the River Isla and the Melgam Water to the north of the Castle. They continue south, on either side of the River Isla, to the Bridge of Dillavaird and extend east to the edge of the main south drive. They are mixed deciduous woods of varying age, which were mainly established by the early 19th century although further planting was carried out in the latter years of the 19th century. Reference to the 1st edition OS map shows pathways through the woodlands along the banks of the gorges. In recent years, these have become overgrown. A woodland walk led up the River Isla to the waterfalls where the 12th Earl built a viewing platform, now in a derelict condition. A mixed avenue of beech, sycamore and lime lines the main south drive. The policy woodland trees date largely from c.1800 but some do appear older and others have been added by the 13th Earl of Airlie in recent years.

The gorge woodlands have been designated as an SSSI by the Nature Conservancy Council due to their continuous history of woodland cover supporting an exceptionally high number of woodland vascular plants, mosses and liverworts. The gorge setting of the woodland renders the site relatively undisturbed, and it is the largest site of its type in the Angus District.

The Gardens

The Wild Garden was established by the 7th Countess of Airlie to the west of the walled garden and the Wild Garden incorporated a variety of Rhododendrons, Azaleas and flowering shrubs. As the house stood empty for some years, this area became overgrown but is currently being cleared. Specimen ornamental trees were planted by visitors to Airlie in the Wild Garden and the commemorative plaques have recently been rediscovered.

The Formal Garden is situated within the walled garden, thought to have been built in 1790, and in an additional area beyond the south wall which was probably an orchard in former times. Reference to the 1st edition OS map of c.1857 indicates a regular layout divided by paths within the walls which remain today. In the late 19th century the 7th Countess of Airlie established the magnificent topiary hedges which line the paths and extend into the former orchard to the south. Their layout is reputed to have been based on the formation of troops at the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Herbaceous borders and old species of roses extend along the length of the yew hedges. Steps on the main north-west/south-east axis leading up to a gate in the south wall are flanked by a sloping parterre of box hedging. A Laburnum Walk planted by the 12th Countess links the south entrance of the garden with the main drive. In addition to these gardens an area of formal lawn is situated adjacent to the west side of the Castle.

Walled Garden

Two of the four compartments of the walled garden are stocked with vegetables whilst two have been grassed.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01575 530387

Access contact details

There are a number of open days in the spring and summer.


The Ogilvy family


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

An outstanding 19th century landscape on several counts: historically, architecturally and for nature conservation. The formal gardens are beautifully laid out and the whole composition of natural gorge and designed features is highly significant in the surrounding scenery.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late 18th century (1792-1803), late 19th/early 20th century, post mid 20th century.

Site History

The designed landscape of Airlie Castle was established by the mid-19th century and is thought to have been laid out between 1792 and 1803 when the Castle was restored and extended. The gardens were embellished by the 5th Countess of Airlie in the late 19th & early 20th century and by the 7th Countess of Airlie after World War II.

The earliest known owner of Airlie was Mormaer of Angus who forfeited the lands of Airlie to the Crown during the reign of William the Lion. The estate is known to have passed through three different families between then and 1411 when Sir John Stratoun of Lauriston acquired the property and built the original castle. Sir Walter Ogilvy, from whom the Airlie family are descended, purchased the property c.1430.

Sir Walter Ogilvy died in 1440. His grandson was created 1st Lord Ogilvy in 1491. Bolsham Castle became the family home and Airlie Castle was used as a summer residence. An earldom was conferred on James, 7th Lord Ogilvy in 1639. The following year the Castle was sacked by the Earl of Argyll and thereafter Cortachy Castle (acquired in 1625) was used as the family home (q.v.). David, Lord Ogilvy was the son of the titular 4th Earl of Airlie (1699-1761), the title having been attainted by an Act of Parliament for his activities in the 1745 rebellion, after which he was exiled to France. He returned to Scotland in 1792 and restored Airlie Castle which was then used as a summer residence until his death in 1803. The Castle was not lived in by the two subsequent lairds.

David, 4th Earl of Airlie had the title restored by an Act of Parliament in 1826. On his marriage to Clementina Drummond, the Castle was made ready for their residence. She however proved to be of weak health and the family lived abroad for much of their life together. The 4th Earl died in 1849 and was succeeded by his son David, who married Henrietta Blanche, daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderney, two years later. On his death in 1881, the 5th Countess made Airlie Castle her home and was responsible for much of the layout of the gardens which remain today. Since then, Airlie Castle has been used as the Dower House of Cortachy up until recent years when it passed to Lord David Ogilvy, son of the present, 13th, Earl of Airlie.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest

  • Reference: Den of Airlie


  • Sundial
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  • Parterre
  • Border
  • Description: The walled border.
  • Planting
  • Description: The wild garden.
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  • Pond
  • Pagoda
  • Walk
  • Description: The river walk.
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Key Information



Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland