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Ardross Castle


At the core of the landscape are early-20th-century formal gardens, including work by Pulham & Sons and the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts. The Formal Garden comprises terraces, designed by Edward White, around 1909. They incorporate curved stone steps with intricately worked balustrades and statues pre-cast in Pulham cement. A castellated gazebo at the south east angle of the upper terrace is made of sandstone similar to that of the Castle.

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

Type of Site

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

Location and Setting

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

Ardross Castle policies extend along the strath, creating a parkland landscape character from Inchlumpie Wood to Dalneich Bridge. The farmed and wooded strath 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, now dominates 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 axis.

The estate landscape, now in divided ownership, 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 comprising some 23ha (90 acres). The essential setting covers a wider area and is taken to be the Averon valley from Inchlumpie Wood to Dalneich Bridge.

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.

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, designed by Edward White, c 1909. They incorporate curved stone steps with intricately worked balustrades and statues pre-cast in Pulham cement. A castellated gazebo at the south east 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 in varying states of repair 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 gate piers 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, are 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, south-east of the Castle, near the confluence of the Tollie Burn and River Averon.

Drives and 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 bed of the Averon. Although many of the 19th century roundels and scatters of individual parkland trees, which ornamented the parkland have been lost post-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 commemorate 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

The Formal Garden (White, 1909), Italianate in style, lies east of the Castle. 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; RCHMS). 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 c 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 Garden

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.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

Reason for Inclusion

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 Pulham & Sons and the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 19th ' early 20th century.

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 tenants to agricultural tenancies, under the supervision of William MacKenzie, an engineer who acted as factor. Between 1845-54 2,600 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 agricultural tenants had increased from 109 to over 500, with an arable acreage of 1,200.

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 c £7,000. Ross was supervisor for roads and buildings of the Highland Railway, of which Matheson was the first Chairman.

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. 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; TROBI,1989). Elsewhere on the estate 2,020ha (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 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. 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 & Mrs Austin Mardon purchased Ardross Castle, Lealty Farm and over 80 acres and lived there until 1983, when the estate was sold.

In 1983, the McTaggart family acquired the estate and began to restore the gardens. The Formal Garden, Walled Garden, shrubberies and lawns have been brought back into good management, additional specimen trees have been planted and woodlands extended. A programme to restore and refurbish the estate buildings and Castle is underway.

In 1994, the Novar wind farm was built, which has had an impact upon Ardross gardens and policies.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Victorian (1837-1901)



Electoral Ward

Alness and Ardross



  • Historic Scotland