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Armadale Castle


The designed landscape at Armadale Castle is associated with the partially derelict early-19th-century castle. There is a 19th-century arboretum and a formal garden situated in the former west end of the castle.

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 woodland garden begun in the early 1800s and embellished with specimen trees in the 1870s.

Location and Setting

Armadale Castle is situated on the south-east coast of Skye about a mile north of the ferry terminal at Armadale Pier for ferries to and from the mainland at Mallaig. The Castle is situated above the coast road, and faces south-east across the Sound of Sleat. The site is bounded by the village of Ardvasar at its south end, and by the coast road along its eastern boundary up to the Mill Burn, Allt a' Mhuilinn, in the north. The policy woodlands form the western boundary and shelter the Castle, farm buildings and enclosed fields. The underlying rocks are very old, metamorphic rocks with later igneous dyke intrusions, and the soils are acid. The climate is mild for its latitude (the same as Leningrad) and the annual rainfall of 60" is slightly less than most of Skye receives. The views across the Sound of Sleat to the mainland hills are important to the setting. The stables and woodlands are significant in the view from the coast road.

The Castle was built on its present site to take advantage of the magnificent views out to the south and east across the Sound of Sleat. The lawn in front of the Castle was levelled to open out the views from the Castle. The extent of the designed landscape has remained the same since the 1st edition OS map in c.1865. Ostaig House, immediately to the north of the policies, is the Dower House for the Macdonald family. A garden plan of 1811 before the building of the 1815 Castle shows that the kitchen garden was moved further to the west at the time the Castle was built. Shortly afterwards in 1823 the course of the coastal road was moved closer to the shore. Otherwise the structure of the design and the woodland shelterbelts has remained the same over the years, although much of the woodlands have been replanted. There are about 285 acres (115ha) in the designed landscape today.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Armadale Castle, listed C, is partially derelict: the west section, designed by James Gillespie Graham, has now been demolished; the middle section, designed by David Bryce, awaits restoration; and the oldest, north section has been converted to house a museum and audio-visual display. The Stables date from 1820, the Gillespie Graham period, and are listed A; in 1984 they were converted to form a Visitor Centre by the Boys Jarvis Partnership. The Bridge, listed B, was built in 1825 and the building was supervised by John Sinclair. The Home Farm was restored in 1891 by John Mackenzie and is listed B. Ardvasar, the former Porter's Lodge is an early 19th century octagonal building, listed B. The Laundry dates from 1820 and is in poor condition; it is listed C. A well, a keepers cottage and kennels also exist.

Woodland Garden

The main drive to the Castle 'Broad Walk' was planted up with a lime avenue in 1820 and some of the original limes remain. There have been later additions of Thuja and monkey puzzle trees along the drive, and some new planting of Sorbus and Fuchsia. Since the Trust bought the estate, a clearance programme was implemented with MSC Team help, cutting back the overgrowth of Rhododendrons and scrub around the garden. The original paths have now been reinstated and some new paths added. Only the grass edge immediately adjacent to the drive is regularly mown; the remainder of the grass is left uncut to encourage wild flowers, eg the bluebells, to grow and seed, and explanatory notices are mounted alongside the drive. To the east of the drive an adventure play area and picnic tables have been put in under the specimen tree canopy. There were over a hundred recorded specimen trees at Armadale at the turn of the century, many of them planted in the 1870s but a few, particularly the specimens of silver fir (Abies alba) are thought to have been planted at c.1800. There are records of the species which were planted, and these are to be used for the new planting programme. Alan Mitchell has measured about twenty of the specimen conifers. The area east of the Castle is lawn; to the north of this part of the garden is a viewpoint with a seat and a small rock garden, beyond which is a path leading to the nature trail. There used to be an orchard in the north- east corner of the garden but this has been planted up with conifers.

West of the Castle there used to be a rose garden and some of the ironwork treillage remains. In 1811 the kitchen garden covered this area, but was moved to its present site further west on the building of the new house. This area has been put to lawn and the surrounds are being planted with ornamental shrubs and a semi-formal scheme is planned for this area. A path leads to the old laundry building. The drainage of this area of the garden is poor and it is planned to make a pond or water feature here. To the south of the walled garden is an area marked as a nursery on the old plans, called the 'High Garden', and planted up about 50 years ago with a mix of western hemlock and lime as a nursery crop but left to grow. The policy woodlands have similarly been left unmanaged for some years; they contain sycamore, beech, birch and lime species and could form the backdrop for more woodland walks in the future. To the north of the nursery, there are the remains of a set of steps up to the formal garden.

The Gardens

In the centre of the former west end of the Castle is a new formal garden originally designed by Lauries of Dundee but improved by the Estate Head Gardener, Mr T. Godfrey, with slate-edged beds containing herbaceous plant material.

Walled Garden

The walled garden was constructed in the early 19th century when the former kitchen garden was used for the siting of a new castle. It is walled on the north and west sides only and fenced on its south side. It had lain derelict for many years until the 1970s when it was restored; it is currently rather overgrown. There were glasshouses at one time, but they have since been lost. It is now in the ownership of the Trust and restoration is scheduled for 1987.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details


Clan Donald Lands Trust


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

The gardens, woodland and architectural features provide a major contribution to the scenery of the Isle of Skye. Armadale Castle has a long historical association with Clan Donald.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early 1800s with improvements in the late 19th century (1870s).

Site History

The Clan Donald can trace their associations with Skye to the early 15th century. The first record of a house at Armadale was in 1690 when it was burned down in reprisal for the Macdonald support of the Jacobite cause. This earlier house is thought to have been sited further west than the present Castle. The Macdonald lands were forfeited in the early 18th century but restored to the laird's grandson, Alexander, in 1727, and the Factor, Hugh Macdonald, lived on the estate while the laird lived at Duntulm. Hugh Macdonald married the mother of Flora Macdonald and Flora visited them at Armadale after smuggling Prince Charles to Portree on Skye. In 1750 she married the Macdonald of Kingsburgh's son at Armadale. In 1766, Alexander Macdonald died and was succeeded by his son Alexander, 1st Baron of Macdonald, who was then succeeded by his son Alexander in 1795. It was he who undertook the improvement of the estate, and in 1815 James Gillespie Graham was commissioned to design a new Castle, built onto the existing mansion house, and facing south-east across the Sound of Sleat. The area in front of the new building was levelled to enhance the fine views across to the mainland. After a fire in the central part of the mansion house in 1850, David Bryce was commissioned to extend the Castle for Godfrey the 4th Baron.

In 1925 the 6th Baron moved to the former Dower House at Ostaig House, and eventually the Castle was put on the market in 1972 when it was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust. By this time the west part of the Castle was derelict and in 1981 it was demolished; remnants were saved, and the Bryce part of the Castle, although empty, has been saved with a view to future restoration. A new formal garden was designed by Lauries of Dundee in the former west end of the Castle, and work began on clearing the grounds around the house. In 1984 the Stables were converted into a Visitor Arrival Building for the Clan Centre. The Dowager Lady Macdonald has retained the ownership of the Garden Cottage.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The castle was partly demolished in 1981.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Pond
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Terraced Walk
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Kyle and Sleat




  • Historic Scotland