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Airthrey Castle


The designed landscape at Airthley Castle has been developed as a university campus since 1967 and incorporates features of the late-18th- and early-19th-century designed landscape. These include the artificial lake laid out by Thomas White, wooded areas and some parkland trees. Late-19th-century conifer plantings also survive.

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:

Type of Site

A country estate of parkland and lake, woodland walks and pleasure grounds, modified in the second half of the 20th century to create a University campus.

Location and Setting

Airthrey Castle is situated in Bridge of Allan, some 2 miles (3km) north of the town of Stirling. To the north lies the Ochil Fault, a steeply sloping fracture on the southern edge of the Ochil Hills. To the south, lies Abbey Craig, a volcanic remnant on which stands the Wallace Monument, one of Stirling's most famous landmarks. The River Forth lies between Abbey Craig and the town of Stirling. The A9(T) road and the B998 respectively form the western and southern boundaries of the site which is the setting of the campus of the University of Stirling. The geology of the area is a mix of Quaternary deposits of boulder clay and raised beach deposits from which the heavy soils of the policies are derived.

Between Stirling and Bridge of Allan, the landscape has evolved with residential and industrial developments associated with the town. Elsewhere along the broad valley of the River Forth, the landscape is predominantly agricultural. Views out from the policies of Airthrey are dominated by the Wallace Monument and Abbey Craig to the south, and the Ochil Hills to the north which are important features of the setting. Views into the site from the surrounding roads are limited by the boundary wall and surrounding woodlands. Views down into the site are gained from the walks in Hermitage Wood which clothes the lower slopes of the Ochil Hills, to the north, and from the Wallace Monument whose heights are scaled by many thousands of visitors annually.

Airthrey Castle is situated within some 390 acres (158ha) of policies which extend north to Hermitage Wood, south to the B998, west to the A9(T) and east to a minor road linking the B998 with Logie Church. Documentary evidence of the designed landscape is confined to General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of c.1870 and the 2nd edition OS of c.1900. Comparison of these maps shows that the extent of the designed landscape was established by 1870 and probably was established by the early 19th century.

The majority of the policies, some 300 acres (122ha), were enclosed by a boundary wall in the course of the original layout. A further 63 acres (25ha) of Hermitage Wood lies to the north of this area. A key feature of the landscape is the 23 acre loch which was part of the original design and has provided a central feature around which the modern landscape has developed.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Airthrey Castle, listed category B, was designed in 1791 by Robert Adam although it is believed that his original design may have been altered in the course of the work which was supervised by Thomas Russell of Edinburgh. A large addition was designed by David Thomson for Donald M. Graham in 1891. The building is used by the University for conferences and tuition. The East Lodge, listed category B, was built in 1809 by William Stirling; the building is in poor condition. Screen walls cross the east entrance drive, linking four ashlar pillars and gates which are in a derelict condition and have been badly vandalised. The West Lodge has been demolished. The stables and gardener's cottage were demolished in the course of the development of the University campus.

The Hermitage in Hermitage Wood is now roofless although the walls remain. An Ice House remains in the wood to the north of the Castle. A Well has been built into the rockface below the building which once was the Home Farm. Standing Stones in the park to the east of the Castle are reputed to commemorate the defeat of the Picts by the Scots in 839.

Of the new buildings associated with the University, the Pathfoot Building to the north of the west drive was the first to be built. The main academic, administration and social buildings are situated on the south bank of the loch whilst the student residential accommodation is sited in blocks on the north side of the former west drive to the Castle overlooking the loch. The Principal's residence is sited to the north of the Castle next to the former walled garden.


The Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 describes Airthrey as having a 'beautiful varied park with a large artificial lake' and the OS Gazetteer of 1883 confirms this stating the park to be of 'remarkable beauty, commanding superb views of the Ochils and the plain beneath them'.

The original design of the park incorporated drives from the west and east, both of which approach the Castle on the north side allowing uninterrupted views across the loch and park. As part of the University, the west drive was diverted along the west side of the loch to the Queen's Court, between the new Cottrell Building and the MacRobert Arts Centre, leaving the line of the west drive beyond this point to be incorporated in the pedestrian circulatory system. It has, since 1973, been developed as the George Forrest Walk. The east drive has been closed to vehicular traffic beyond the walled garden. The Avenue trees on the drive date mainly from the Victorian period and include sycamore, beech and lime, some of which have been cut down and are now suckering from the base.

The parkland has, inevitably, been reduced in size since the original layout as a result of the University development. The layout of the buildings however, did incorporate some of the existing parkland trees and some remaining oak, beech and lime, dating from c.1860-70, provide a valuable mature canopy to the areas around the student residential blocks. Other ornamental species have been added for colour. To the south of the west drive, an extensive range of playing pitches has been laid out. To the south of the Cottrell building is the site of the 'Innovation Park', to the east of which lies the present development of high technology industry. A 9-hole pitch & putt course, laid out on the south side of Airthrey Castle, was completed in 1980. Various ornamental conifers and deciduous species have been planted within the parkland structure.

The small area of parkland immediately to the south of the walled garden has been laid out as a Memorial Garden to Gardeners under a trust set up by Lord Cochrane of Cults; beyond it was the site of the Archery range. The only areas remaining of conventional grazed parkland lie in the south-west corner of the policies and to the south of the pitch & putt course, providing a 'buffer zone' of privacy to the industrial and educational developments.


The largest area of policy woodland is Hermitage Wood, whilst smaller areas remain within the site: Spittal Wood to the south-west of the Cottrell Building, and the woods at East Lodge. Hermitage Wood is largely mixed deciduous with some Scots pine. The other woods are of a similar nature, with some coniferous pockets planted since 1967.

Reference to the 1st edition OS map indicates extensive footpaths through Hermitage Wood where features such as the Hermitage and the Summerhouse were incorporated. Footpaths laid out through the woods by East Lodge linked with a path through the parkland which returned along the south side of the loch to the west drive. The areas of industrial development in the park have resulted in the closure of this circular walk.

The Gardens

Reference to the 1st edition OS map of c.1870 indicates that the pleasure grounds lay to the north of the Castle. A bowling green is marked directly to the west of the walled garden and what appears to be a formal garden layout within the walled garden next to the kennels. Both these features have gone. To the south of the kennels, a small burn falls over the cliff forming an attractive waterfall. A well has been built into the rockface and a path has been cut below it and laid with stone flags. The slopes to the east of the waterfall have been laid out as a rock garden. Around the Castle itself and above the golf course is a shrub rose garden.

In the late 19th century, a conifer walk was laid out between the Castle and the walled garden which includes sequoias, monkey puzzle and other interesting species. In recent years, a magnolia walk has been developed in this area.

The George Forrest Walk was established in 1973 along the line of the former west drive on the north side of the loch to commemorate the centenary of the plant collector's birth. Initially, it was planted with Rhododendron ponticum to provide shelter but more tender species were established in bays once wind protection was assured. Plants used were derived mainly from species which George Forrest had introduced to this country and were initially donated by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. They include a number of rhododendrons, including R. fulvum, as well as Hypericum forrestii, Rosa forrestiana and Gentiana sino-ornata.

A new bridge was built across the loch as part of the University development linking the residential and social centres of the campus. This bridge spans the loch at the point where a former footbridge existed; it was erected in the late 19th century as comparison of the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps shows. Further examination of these maps also indicates that in the late 19th century the island on the loch was extended from its original size to its present form. Through all the recent developments, the form of the loch has remained consistent except where a necessary service access to the MacRobert Arts Centre has cut across the pond and has resulted in a new feature, the MacRobert Pond.

Walled Garden

The walled garden is situated in the north-east corner of the policies. It is walled on the west and north sides and enclosed on the south and east sides by low iron railings. The Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 describes it as 'perfect as regards culture and neatness and the abundance and fine quality of fruit' and reference to the 1st edition OS map of 1860 indicates the layout of an orchard in the garden.

The original glasshouses have gone, replaced by new ranges of glass and some polythene tunnels used by students of Biology. The garden itself is mainly used for cut flowers, vegetables and lining out of plants for the gardens.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The campus of Stirling University is open to the public throughout the year. For details see:


Buses run from the Murray Place bus-stop in town to the university campus.


The University of Stirling


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

A significant 18th and 19th-century designed landscape notable for the beauty of the parkland and lake. A modern university campus has been created and integrated into the historic parkland.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

End 18th century/early 19th century with improvements second half 19th century and changes since 1967.

Site History

The designed landscape of Airthrey was laid out at the end of the 18th & early 19th centuries. Some embellishments were made in the latter half of the 19th century but as comparison of the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps shows no major structural changes, it would appear that these improvements were mainly planting. The University campus has been developed since 1967.

Early references suggest that the lands of Airthrey belonged to the Monks of Cambus, Kenneth & Dunfermline in medieval times. It was the seat of the first Earl of Montrose in the early 16th century, whose sister married James Haldane of Gleneagles and whose descendants later acquired the estates from the Stirling family who held the Airthrey lands in the 17th century. Reference to General Roy's map of c.1750 shows little sign of a designed landscape on the site at this time.

Robert Haldane, recorded in the OS Gazetteer of 1885 as being 'the founder of Scottish Congregationalism', commissioned Robert Adam in 1791 to design his castle at Airthrey having been particularly impressed by his previous work at Seton, outside Edinburgh. Haldane however tried to skimp on the architect's fees and Adam retired from the commission before the Castle was actually constructed, leaving the surveying of the building work to the mason, Thomas Russell of Edinburgh.

In 1796, the estate was sold to Sir Robert Abercrombie who continued to lay out the designed landscape begun by Haldane. Thomas White Snr & Jnr have been noted as being responsible for the layout of the designed landscape but there are no known design plans which confirm this. An Abercrombie laird was also responsible for the Victorian additions to the house and grounds in the late 19th century.

In 1939 the Local Health Authority acquired the estate and, during World War II, the Castle was used as a Hospital and continued to be used as such even after the establishment of the National Health Service in 1947 when the property passed into the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1966, it was gifted to the University of Stirling. Robert Matthew Johnson Marshall & Partners were commissioned to develop the campus within the existing landscape structure with the aid of Mr A.N. Walker, MA FRICS (University Estates and Buildings Officer) and Mr H.H. Milne MA SDH FRHS (University Superintendent of Grounds), all of whom took into account the existing qualities of the estate and endeavoured to retain them in creating the landscape which remains today. More recently, an area of some 32 acres of parkland has been leased to a high technology industrial developer and an Innovation Park is being developed in the parkland along the southern boundary.


  • 18th Century (1701 to 1800)
  • Late 18th Century (1775 to 1799)
Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Lake
  • Icehouse
  • Hermitage
  • Description: A ruinous hermitage in Hermitage Wood.
  • Artefact
  • Description: Two standing stones
Key Information





Principal Building



18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland