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Ayton Castle


Ayton Castle is set on formal terraces above the valley of the River Eye, which flows through the 19th-century parkland. A mid-19th-century pinetum and wood garden are valuable bird and wildlife habitats. The structure of the terraced walled garden survives and there have been late-19th- and 20th-century developments in the gardens. The house is open occasionally during the season.

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

An improvement-period designed landscape with major architectural and garden design elements constructed during the mid-later 19th century. The policies are centred on Ayton Castle, a mid-19th century Baronial castle, and contain other notable architectural features, including a 16th century dovecot and Ayton parish church.

Location and Setting

The designed landscape is located 2 miles (3km) south of the coastal town of Eyemouth. The castle itself occupies a prominent position, some 70m above sea-level on the north bank of the Eye Water. From this vantage point, views extend along the deeply-incised, wooded river valley of the Eye and southwards across the farmland of the Berwickshire Merse towards the Cheviots. When viewed from the south and east, the Castle forms a dramatic local landmark, silhouetted against the northern horizon. The designed landscape encompasses an area of 65ha (160ac) and is bounded by Ayton village to the west, which is designated as a conservation area. Both the old and new parish churches of Ayton stand within the Castle policies near the south-west boundary. Minor roads to the north west and south, and the A1 to the north east form the other boundaries of the designed landscape. The total extent of the designed landscape has remained fairly constant for the past two centuries and the extent defined today closely matches the policies as mapped on the 1st edition OS map of 1856, with the exception of a portion of land to the north-east lost to the construction of the new A1 route in the 1980s.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Ayton Castle is an outstanding local landmark. It was designed by James Gillespie Graham, 1845-51, and enlarged by David Bryce from 1860-1. It is almost certain that Gillespie Graham designed two other key red-sandstone, mid-19th century structures; the 2-storey, asymmetrical South Lodge, with segmented arched pend, and the stable range built around a quadrangular courtyard. At the other entrance, the later 19th-century, single-storey North Lodge, was built on a rectangular plan out of rubble whinstone with red sandstone dressings. To the east of the Castle, the beehive-from, 3-tiered, rubble dovecot is a survivor from the 16th century. A date panel inserted above the square-headed door and inscribed T.F E.W 1745(?) may commemorate the completion of repairs. The walled garden, comprising high rubble sandstone walls with brick-lined interiors, probably dates from the opening decades of the 19th century. Associated features include a range of brick, single storey potting sheds built along the north-west exterior wall and an octagonal summerhouse set into the interior of the north-eastern wall. Free-standing greenhouses to the north, built during the 20th century, are rented to a commercial nursery along with a number of newer polytunnels. St Abb's Well, depicted on the 1st edition OS map of 1856, is an ornamented spring well with a gothic-style arch. Water flows from the arch through a stone-reinforced channel to the Eye Water below. Two narrow footbridges constructed in the second half of the 19th century provide access across the river. The western-most of the two may have replaced an earlier bridge marked on Blackadder's survey map of 1810. In the south-west corner of the policies, the ruins of St Dionysius' Church stand within the parish graveyard. Little survives of the original early to mid-12th century structure. Most of the present fabric, including the bell-tower, dates to the 18th century when extensive alteration and remodelling took place. The church may mark the site of a deserted medieval village mentioned in charters of the late 11th and early 12th centuries. To the west, the striking Victorian Ayton parish church, funded largely by Alexander Mitchell-Innes, was designed by James Maitland Wardrop and built during the 1860s. The tall steeple forms a prominent landmark, clearly visible above the surrounding woodland canopy when viewed from the Castle. A war memorial, immediately to the south-west features a stylised cross-shaped finial. It commemorates local losses during the two World Wars.

Drives and Approaches

The principal, and oldest surviving drive ascends towards Ayton Castle from the south. Depicted on Blackadder's survey map of 1810, it curves through mixed deciduous woodland and passes the pinetum. At the halfway point, a strategic gap in planting reveals a sudden and clear view of the castle above, with the difference in height serving to accentuate the size and visual impact of the building. A milestone marked on the 1st edition OS map to the left of the drive remains in-situ. A further drive marked on Blackadder's survey that entered the estate from the north was removed in the first half of the 19th century. A short section of this drive remains visible as an earthwork in the field by the lawn, leading straight towards the site of the old house, (slightly to the west of the current building). The drive that enters from the north east was established c.mid-19th century. Leading first to the stables, the drive curves on a gentle S-bend towards the Castle. Meanwhile, a service track forks from the stables directly towards the estate offices.

Paths and Walks

A maintained path leads from the drive along the north-bank of the Eye Water to St Abb's Well. Depicted on Blackadder's survey map of 1810, this path passes through woodland and, in places, affords dramatic views across the parkland upslope towards the Castle. Other sections of path lead through the Eye valley and across the river via 19th century foot-bridges. These are largely unmaintained and more difficult to follow.


The main area of remaining parkland extends downslope from the Castle towards the Eye Water. New saplings planted here in recent years will maintain the parkland character in the future. Veteran oak, sycamore and lime specimens standing in woodland to the east of the house and the pasture fields to the north, are remnants of originally much larger tracts of parkland on the estate.


The substantial woodland canopy of the designed landscape forms a crucial element of the Castle's landscape setting. Mixed woodland planting undertaken towards the end of the 20th century is now serving to offset the loss of older trees felled during World War II. Some post-war rows of commercially planted conifers remain, particularly within the southern area of the walled garden, but in general, the dominant impression is of mixed deciduous planting incorporating oak, ash, lime, Chilean beech and southern beech. Particularly fine specimens of copper beech stand within the plantation along the main drive, while substantial perimeter woodland around the western boundary of the policies and along the course of the Eye water valley provide a valuable wildlife resource.

Woodland Garden

The pinetum is located to the north of the main drive and was established by William Mitchell Innes in the mid 19th century. Although several young specimen trees were lost in the infamous frost of 1879, some fine, mature trees remain, including monkey puzzle, cedar of Lebanon and Wellingtonia. Younger monkey puzzle and several varieties of Sorbus now also stand in this area, together with further young southern beech, planted just west of the pinetum in the later 20th century.

The Wood Garden is situated to the north of the pinetum, between the walled garden and castle forecourt. Older deciduous trees, including oak and beech, stand alongside more recent walnuts and cotoneaster.

The Gardens

Formal garden terraces extend from the south and west elevations of the castle and are defined along their outer edge by stone garden rampart walls with turrets and balustrades. They appear on the 1st edition OS map of 1856 and are contemporary with the construction of Ayton Castle. Now grassed over, they were originally laid out with well-stocked, diamond-shaped and circular flowerbeds. A terrace at the west end was used as a bowling green in the 19th century (1856, OS 25'), but is now laid out with symmetrical rectangular beds featuring herbaceous and ornamental shrubs. Recent additions to the gardens around the house, meanwhile, include two double rows of Cunningham White rhododendron, planted to form an avenue extending towards the gravel forecourt at the Castle's northern entrance front. A new memorial garden, created at the start of the 21st century, is sited on the raised terraced lawn to the west of the castle. Red sandstone steps lead to a semi-circular area planted with rhododendron, conifer and ornamental potted box.

Walled Garden

The walled garden is possibly depicted on Blackadder's estate map of 1810, and is certainly evident on Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler's map of 1826. Measuring over 1.4ha (3.5ac) in extent, the interior descends southwards via several built terraces. It is enclosed on three sides and open to the south, although former views towards the Eye Water valley and the pinetum are now obscured by conifer plantations and woodland to the south. To the south east, a 10m high, sprawling yew hedge possibly predates the construction of the walled garden (Land Use Consultants 1987: 270).

A detailed description in the Gardeners Chronicle of 1881 provides one of the best sources of written evidence for the appearance and content of the walled garden when supervised by the head gardener of the time, Mr Richardson (Downie 188). On the uppermost terrace along the north wall was a series of glasshouses, built in the 1870s, and including a peach-house, melon-house, vinery and mushroom house. Demolished in 1938, the footprints of these structures remain visible along with a few broken Minton floor-tiles. To the south of the glasshouses, the terraces were planted with flower gardens during the late 19th century. Stone steps descend from each terrace and connected up with paths that crossed the width of the walled garden. Both the steps and the paths are now virtually lost among the vegetation.

The remains of a former rock garden are located within the east side of the walled garden. First established during the late 19th century, it was enlarged to form a Japanese garden during the first third of the 20th century. It was constructed by the father of the late owner, Mr David Liddell Grainger, as a present for his wife. Bamboo and azalea planting could still be detected among the vegetation during the 1980s. Now, only a few key structural features still remain evident, including the rock-lined pool, the large boulders that formed the framework of the garden, and stone pedestals that once supported statues. Partly concealed by matured conifer plantation, this area is now very overgrown.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

Ayton Castle is a prominently-sited, impressive local landmark, renowned for being one of only two Baronial structures by architect, James Gillespie Graham (1776-1885). The castle is set among garden terraces, parkland and attractive woodland policies, which together make an outstanding scenic contribution to the local landscape.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1765-1809, 1840s-1880s

Site History

The designed landscape of Ayton was established through a period of later 18th-century improvement and planting together with a series of Victorian architectural and garden design projects. In previous centuries, the lands had been associated with an earlier castle, built to exploit the strategically-valuable high ground above the Eye Water valley. In the 15th century, the site was considered 'one of the best fortalices between Berwick and Edinburgh' (Thomson 1908:197). Today, the most notable architectural survivors of the medieval and post-medieval landscape include the 16th-century dovecot and, on the south bank of the Eye Water, the consolidated and altered ruins of the old medieval parish church St Dionysius.

In 1715, the early castle became forfeit to the crown following the Jacobite rebellion. The main turning point for the creation of the present landscape came in 1765, when the estate was purchased by James Fordyce, a Commissioner for lands and forests of England and an MP for Berwickshire (Cruft et al. 2006: 110). Roy's Military Survey map gives an approximate idea of the landscape when Fordyce arrived (Roy 1747-55). It depicts the castle surrounded by the regular, enclosed lands of the former village of Ayton with only some tree cover along the south bank of the Eye. Fordyce was responsible for significant changes at Ayton. He began a new village, and is remembered in historical accounts as a 'most spirited planter', (Agricultural review 1801, quoted in Land Use Consultants 1987: 267), who gave 'fresh impulse to the tide of improvements' (Beattie 1838: 16). Meanwhile, surviving plans drawn up by Robert Adam in 1791 indicate that negotiations had, at one stage, included the construction of an entrance lodge and gate (Land Use Consultants 1987: 267). Fordyce died in 1809 and the estate passed first to his son and then grandson. A partially surviving estate map drawn up in 1810 by Blackadder demonstrates that by this date much of the essential structure of the designed landscape had been put in place, including the approach from the south

The estate remained in the ownership of the Fordyces until a disastrous fire in 1834 destroyed much of the earlier residence. The next seventy years were crucial in the architectural development of the estate. Surprised by a fortuitous inheritance from a cousin, William Mitchell-Innes, originally from Aberdeenshire, bought Ayton Castle in 1838 and it was during his tenure that many of the present architectural features were constructed, including Gillespie Graham's red sandstone Baronial castle, from 1845-51. In 1860, Mitchell-Innes' son Alexander Mitchell-Innes inherited Ayton Castle and is remembered as the key patron for the new parish church. By the late 19th century, Ayton was a Victorian estate in its prime. An article in the Gardeners' Chronicle in 1881 praised the wealth and variety of planting in the walled garden, and describes a range of well-stocked glasshouses that extended along the upper terrace of the enclosure. A surviving letter from a debutante in 1890 alludes to a grand ball held at Ayton, and a bouquet of pink roses gathered from the gardens (Nicholson 1988: 153).

Following the death of Alexander Mitchell-Innes in 1886 Ayton Castle was sold to the Liddell-Grainger family, who continue to retain ownership of the site. Little structural change occurred during the Edwardian era, but, like elsewhere, the altered social and economic circumstances of the 20th century brought about decline. Significant losses included areas of woodland felled during World War II, to be replaced partly by conifer plantation, and the long-term decline of the interior of the walled garden.

While some parts of the designed landscape remain unmaintained, planting work has succeeded in re-establishing an attractive, mixed woodland canopy at Ayton. Other key works of the late 20th-early 21st century, meanwhile, include the development of a commercial nursery to the north of the walled garden, and the creation of a new memorial garden on the terrace to the north-west of the house.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Country House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
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  • Doocot
  • Description: Beehive doocot, part of B listing with the West Lodge.
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  • Ruin
  • Description: The ruins of St Dinoysus' Church.
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Victorian (1837-1901)





Electoral Ward

Eyemouth and District South